1) Universal Pre-K
Two of my children are already in Montgomery County Public Schools, and my youngest daughter will begin kindergarten in a few years. My family is like many others. We had to work hard to find quality daycare and affordable preschool. And we celebrated with relief when our older kids started their elementary school.
But we were the fortunate ones, because at least our kids were able to go to pre-school. Other families are not as lucky, and that discrepancy is both a societal and educational problem. There is a solution: universal pre-K.
Studies suggest that the achievement gap begins early and persists because kids have uneven starting points. Some students with access to private pre-K have already learned about classroom socialization, group play, and alphabet basics, but others are not so lucky.
Let's even the playing field. Maryland and Montgomery County should give kids of all economic classes and backgrounds the opportunity to go to pre-kindergarten for free as part of their public education.
Expanding education is already a proven idea. Washington D.C. introduced pre-K in an effort to keep young families from moving away...and it's working. We in Montgomery County also have families who are struggling with work and child care.
We as a society can do better than this. Offering the option of public pre-K would both reduce the achievement gap and provide tremendous relief to young, working families.
2) Reliable, increased funding to allow more teachers and smaller classes
When our older children started in elementary school, we were so impressed by their teachers. My wife and I sometimes have trouble managing three kids on a trip to the zoo. But MCPS teachers manage, nurture, and educate classes of 15-30 kids, and do it with skill and dedication. They are a special breed. But even they will tell you that large classes are difficult.
There is an answer for this problem too: reliable and increased school funding.
Montgomery County has a terrific system which mandates smaller class sizes if a high percentage of students are in the free-or-reduced lunch program (often called "Title 1" students). Having smaller classes in Title 1 schools is a fantastic method of leveling the playing field, but Title 1 staffing requires funding.
Montgomery County teachers and students were both kicked around during recent budget controversies. The state gave up on its teacher pension responsibilities and passed them to Montgomery County. The state also threatened to cut millions in education funding to the county. Teachers should not have to worry about their pension security. Students should not have to worry that class size will increase because of staff reductions. We can do better.
We need to stop punishing vulnerable students and fantastic teachers. Our educational system is world class, but we need reliable and increased funding to reduce inequalities in education and strengthen our public schools.
Please help make this happen by supporting Darian Unger for delegate.