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Opinion: Montgomery County students deserve full funding


Opinion: Montgomery County students deserve full funding

May 17, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Guest Commentary
Opinion: Montgomery County students deserve full funding
A seal at the entrance of the Montgomery County executive office building. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

By Pia Morrison and Travis B. Simon

The writers are president and director of political and legislative affairs, respectively, of SEIU Local 500. The union represents nearly 10,000 Montgomery County Public Schools employees.

Montgomery County faces a public education staffing crisis. A staff and faculty shortage combined with record-setting enrollment has more than overburdened our support staff, faculty, administrators, and nurses. Shortchanging education spending is only exasperating the situation, particularly as Montgomery County is now spending less on education per student than it did over a decade ago.

Budget cuts mean staff and faculty are hamstrung in building the meaningful relationships with students that are critical to their personal and academic success. It means secretaries are doing more and are less able to provide staff with proper support. Cuts mean paraeducators have fewer opportunities to collaborate with teachers and develop instruction plans for students with learning differences. Anything less than fully funding the county education budget would make a farce out of the world-class education that has driven so many Maryland residents to make Montgomery County their home.

As student enrollment and needs increase, so too must staffing. Otherwise, Montgomery County’s already overburdened staff will be forced to shoulder more work with fewer resources and less time. Ultimately, overburdening our staff will impact our students, as job stressors spill over into the classroom, resulting in lower student achievement. Simultaneously, this causes more burnout on staff and teachers. The numbers are clear: During the 2022 school year, MCPS teacher resignations and retirements increased by 38% and there are almost 400 vacant support staff positions in part due to low pay.

At SEIU Local 500, we represent nearly 10,000 MCPS employees — from the building services technicians that provide safe and clean learning environments, to the paraeducators ensuring our children with special needs receive an equal education, to the bus operators that return our students home safely each day — our members’ vocations are centered around creating a top-quality learning environment for all children.

We know that failing to properly fund our education system will result in larger class sizes and fewer school staff—everyone from food service workers to nurses to psychologists. These cuts will result in a loss of stability and quality learning for our children. With fewer resources to dedicate to students with developmental and learning differences, our special needs children will be most impacted, limiting the county’s ability to provide the individualized care they need to thrive alongside their peers.

Our students deserve better.

Fortunately, County Executive Marc Elrich (D) has proposed a budget that would fully fund MCPS at $3.2 billion, giving our school system the funding necessary to provide our growing student body with a quality education. These measures are especially critical now, as our education system recovers from the learning loss incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s standardized test results reported that nearly 70% of Maryland fifth and eighth graders are not proficient in science, a drop of several percentage points from pre-pandemic levels. The pandemic has increased the need for additional assistance to close achievement gaps while supporting social and emotional issues — and without the right resources, we cannot close learning gaps, address historic inequities in education, and support the families of this county effectively.

The increase in proposed funding will enable MCPS to offer competitive salaries to retain and recruit staff, engage students with new research-based and innovative approaches to learning, accommodate rising costs of healthcare for school employees, and help expand the state’s Autism Waiver Program.

County Executive Elrich has proposed a revenue enhancement measure that would increase the County’s property tax rate in order to exclusively cover the budget shortfalls that would impact MCPS.

We adamantly support the revenue enhancements to fully fund MCPS. We cannot afford to have a school system where our teachers and support staff are overworked and under resourced or where our students — especially our students with learning or developmental differences — don’t have access to the education, resources, or individualized care they need.

Over the past few years, our county has weathered budget shortfalls and a global health crisis.  Many times, the sacrifices necessary to meet these challenges have been put on the backs of public workers.

This is the year it must stop.

We at SEIU Local 500 urge the Montgomery County Council to pass the MCPS proposed budget with the revenue enhancement. Our students deserve nothing less, and our educators require nothing more. Only by fully funding the budget can we ensure that the school staff and educators to which we’ve entrusted our children’s futures have what they need to help our students thrive for years to come.