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Friday, June 6, 2014

Challenges with child care?

I am the proud parent of two boys, age six and three. As we all know, kids bring challenges, joy, love and even a bit of craziness now and then. Our kids have also brought my wife and me into contact with a patchwork system of child care services. And I can tell you from my personal experience: finding quality, affordable child care is a real challenge.

1. Care is expensive. The state reports the average cost of care for two children as $25,234 per year in our county -- more than two thousand dollars per month.

2. We don’t have enough care. In 2012, Montgomery County had 65,162 residents under the age of 5 in 2012 (Census). However, licensed child care providers in the county could only accept 26,719 children. That means we have 38,000 more children than licensed spaces.

3. We aren’t doing much about it. Out of 28 major school renovation or expansion projects in our school construction budget, only two are scheduled to include child care. More than 90% of these schools are not planning for space. We need to do better.

Child care has been a high priority for me during my time on the County Council. In 2012, I passed a law requiring the county to assess the feasibility of including child care in all of its new building projects, and I added an incentive for providing child care to our zoning code for new development.

In the current budget, I suggested to my colleagues that we require child care in every new school project unless it was found to be cost-prohibitive or impossible to fit in because of site conditions. And I have been working with child care providers to ensure fair procedures for bidding out public space to their programs.

But I know that we need to do more – much more. For that, I need your help. I know a lot of our residents grapple with these challenges. If you can spare a minute, please take my Survey on Child Care. I am looking to measure this problem and to gather ideas for how we can do better. And I know we can do better if we work together.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Making my mark on the budget

Last week, the County Council passed a new budget for the year. As we steadily climb out of the Great Recession, we are beginning to restore critical services at a responsible pace.

My number one budget priority is education, and our new budget fully funds MCPS and Montgomery College. Our record funding amount of $2.28 billion will enable MCPS to reduce English and Math class sizes in the highest poverty schools and provide additional English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) staffing in 21 schools. We are also investing a record amount of local money on school construction. Our capital budget includes 27 new or expansion school projects all over the county.

These funding improvements are made in the context of a budget that overall is responsible. We have met or exceeded our reserve requirements, and the rate of growth is affordable (in fact, it is less than the rate of growth in personal income).

As in years past, I put my own stamp on our county priorities. Following are several initiatives that I successfully spearheaded with support from my colleagues at the County Council, largely through my work on the Transportation and Environment committee.

1. An Increase in the County's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): nearly 35,000 families in our county depend on the EITC to increase their incomes by reducing their tax burdens. The EITC was cut during the recession, but I passed legislation to restore it. The average eligible family will receive a $526 local tax credit next year, a record amount, adding to their Federal and State returns to provide a substantial increase in their incomes.

2. I also successfully worked to expand the county’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service, which helps residents fill out their tax returns and claim credits owed to them like the EITC -- because you can’t claim the EITC if you don’t file taxes.

3. I created a new program in the capital budget that will help make Montgomery County more walkable and bikeable by funding bicycle and pedestrian improvements in the county’s more urbanized areas. The Department of Transportation will begin looking at improvements in Glenmont, Grosvenor, the Silver Spring CBD, Veirs Mill/Randolph and the Wheaton CBD and will then move on to the rest of the county.

4. I was stunned to learn that Montgomery County cannot expand bus service to meet our vision for transit because we are out of buses! I took action to add five more buses to our capital program. We discussed adding service to the 55 route from Germantown to Rockville as a high priority, among others.

5. One of the more important recommendations of our Night Time Economy Task Force was to improve the circulator services in our urban districts. So I took the lead to secure funding to expand and rethink the Silver Spring circulator, with a goal of creating a unified program across the county.

6. I also secured a funding increase for creating new natural surface trails in our parks -- I would like to see our county become more of a mecca for hikers and bikers.

7. Finally, the county will begin a new tree planting initiative that I am working with the County Executive to design. Seed funding for this program was created in this year's budget as well.

As you can see, I am working hard to fund public education and public transportation, our safety net, our environmental programs and more, while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Please contact me if I can be of service.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The marvelous Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 17

Please join me for a special event as I introduce Brian Floca, the author of the marvelous book, Locomotive, which my wife Angela and I have read to our youngest son, Travis, more times than we can count. The story is superb and the artwork is unforgettable -- for which it deservedly won the 2014 Caldecott Medal (best picture book).

Floca will be among the dozens of nationally acclaimed and noteworthy authors at one of the region’s finest cultural events, the Gaithersburg Book Festival. There is food and a playground for families and books and activities for every interest, and we are expecting as many as 20,000 attendees. See more details on the festival below:

The 5th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival

Where: Gaithersburg City Hall, 31 S. Summit Avenue, Gaithersburg, MD 20877 (Parking and Directions info here)

  • Talks and signings from dozens of best-selling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors
  • Writing workshops for adults and children
  • Numerous children's activities, readings, and performances
  • More than 100 author and literary-industry exhibitors
  • On-site book sales by Politics & Prose Bookstore
Cost: FREE to attend

2012 Featured Author Sheela Chari signing for young fans

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A bright future for EVERY student

When young people organize for change, anything is possible. I know this having served as Barack Obama's National Youth Vote Director as well as political director of Rock the Vote.

So when the MCPS students of the Minority Scholars Program invited me to join them for the March to Close the Achievement Gap, I attended -- and I was inspired by their advocacy.

Our students are right. While MCPS is a superb school system by many measures, we know that there are disparities in educational outcomes according to race and income. A review of dropout rates, AP exams, SAT scores and other measures provides ample evidence that we are not achieving our goal of helping every child succeed.

A new County Council research report on high schools shows a large and growing achievement gap between schools in areas with significant poverty and schools in low-poverty areas.

We can do better. Montgomery County is blessed with experienced school leadership, great teachers, significant resources and a diverse population that values education. The county also invests hundreds of millions of dollars in health and human service initiatives that help children and families outside the classroom. When all of us get together - elected officials, parents, MCPS leadership and stakeholders throughout our county – we can figure out how to make this work.

What steps do we need to take? Here are some of my recommendations:

1. Fund new initiatives in MCPS that are intended to close the achievement gap, including more ESOL programs, incentives for teachers to stay in more challenged schools, smaller class sizes for challenged high schools, and more. These programs are in the MCPS budget that is pending before the County Council now and I support them.

2. Reduce concentrations of poverty in our county by promoting economic development for all of our communities. Families need jobs to thrive and the lack of high paying jobs in the East County has real consequences in the classroom. Concentrated poverty in our neighborhoods is the greatest threat to academic achievement in our schools.

3. Strengthen early childhood programs, in partnership with MCPS, to prevent the achievement gap from starting. Parents need affordable child care and children need to start kindergarten ready to learn. Our county has a long way to go on these issues.

As a parent of two young kids, the older of whom just started MCPS kindergarten, my passion for meeting these challenges is only growing. I want to hear from you and work with you to make sure that our county continues to become a better place to live for everyone.

The March to Close the Achievement Gap. Photo Credit: Dan Reed