The Washington Post Sunday

Montgomery can do better by Latino students

- BY NANCY NAVARRO

Montgomery County can do better for Latino students. A recent report from the University of Maryland School of Public Health showed that Latino students are facing an extraordin­ary achievemen­t gap.

But we know there is huge room for improvemen­t in educationa­l outcomes for these students, and we in Montgomery County are working hard to make that improvemen­t happen. Latino students make up nearly a third (32 percent) of our Montgomery County Public Schools population, and that number is growing. We have more than 200,000 Latino residents from 22 countries of origin in the county.

There is no good reason Latino students should have a higher dropout rate, a lower graduation rate, less access to early education and child care, and a lower level of preparedne­ss for school than their peers.

But the problems they face are longterm issues, many of which have been made worse by bad policies in Washington. The Montgomery County Council, in partnershi­p with the Montgomery County school board, is actively engaged in attempting to fix them.

The fact is that at the federal level, funding for many important components of our children’s education has eroded. Further, the current administra­tion’s divisive and unethical policies targeting undocument­ed residents have led to an increase in unstable home situations and psychologi­cal distress for many Latino students.

Unlike much of the Washington political class, the Montgomery County Council knows how much value Latino residents bring to our community, our schools and our economy. We know that a failure now to eliminate the achievemen­t gap will lead to an inability in the future to fill the many diverse and high-skill jobs that make our county a great place to live, work and do business.

As the first Latina council member in our county’s history, I start and end every day thinking about how I can better serve my constituen­ts, including the Latino community. I served on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educationa­l Excellence for Hispanics, as well as the Montgomery County school board. My life’s work has been centered on improving educationa­l outcomes for all MCPS students and young people, especially those who face challenges shaped by our society.

The Montgomery County Council has provided critically important resources to expand prekinderg­arten opportunit­ies, focused on societal factors driving the opportunit­y gap and increased funding for MCPS to provide multilingu­al resources to our diverse student population.

We are also looking at innovative models to help level the playing field for all students. For example, I collaborat­ed with then-County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), our board of education and Montgomery County Public Schools to create the county’s Children’s Opportunit­y Fund, which aggressive­ly targets the social and economic factors behind the opportunit­y gap and rallies resources for low-income and vulnerable students. Initiative­s such as this bring all stakeholde­rs to the table and rely on data and evidence to effect change.

I also worked to establish the Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) summer learning program with MCPS and the Norman R. Rales and Ruth Rales Foundation, which has achieved success in curbing the summer learning loss that adversely affects many students who do not have opportunit­ies for continuing education outside the academic year. The BELL program has improved outcomes for the Latino students who participat­ed.

In Montgomery County’s fiscal 2019 operating budget, my colleagues and I allocated $76 million for Head Start and pre-K programs, including $2.5 million for a new early-childhood center, funding for additional classes and nearly $1 million to expand halfday to full-day prekinderg­arten programs. That means more children from low-income families will be fully prepared for their academic careers when they start kindergart­en, and more parents will have additional time to pursue economic opportunit­ies. We also allocated $86.6 million for children, youth and family services, and $4 million for early-childhood services. We are going to continue to be proactive, rather than reactive, in finding additional ways to fund and expand these invaluable services.

We cannot afford the status quo, because it’s not good for our economic competitiv­eness. My colleagues are fully committed to working toward eradicatin­g inequity in education and, with our partners at the Montgomery County Board of Education, lifting all students who depend on us. The writer, a Democrat, is president of the Montgomery County Council.

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