Board of Education, District 5
By the time this article prints, the Anne Arundel County Public Schools Fiscal Year 2020 budget will be in the hands of our esteemed county council. This is the last, but crucial, step in the budget cycle before we will know whether our operating and capital budget requests will be fulfilled. With our school system being woefully underfunded for years, we have a lot of catching up to do. The level of funding received will affect every aspect of our schools.
Our priorities for this year’s budget were clear and included increasing school mental health staff, expanding ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) services, and decreasing class sizes.
The mental health of our students is critical to their success. When our student’s mental and emotional needs are met, they are more likely to rise to the life’s challenges and are less likely to self-harm, abuse substances, and suffer from anxiety and depression.
Our school mental health staff members are wonderful and well-qualified but are sometimes spread far too thin. One student recently commented to me that it can take weeks to get an appointment with her school counselor and, when they do meet, might not have the time desired to help resolve problems. Likewise, it is not uncommon to not have a psychologist on-site some days during the school week if the psychologist is shared between multiple schools. While we are far from achieving recommended mental health staff to student ratios at all schools, the enormous positive impact by adding an additional 18 school counselors, 7.6 psychologists, and six social workers is immeasurable.
Our community is growing and becoming more diverse every year. Some of the most powerful testimony I heard before voting on the budget was from students involved in our English Language Acquisition (ELA) program. These students beautifully articulated how they benefited from the ELA program. Each of them finished their testimony by telling the Board of Education how they could have given their testimony in their native language but wanted to speak in English, highlighting their newly acquired English language skills as a result of participating in the program. If funding isn’t provided for the requested additional English Language Acquisition teachers, bilingual facilitators, and bilingual assistants students will begin to fall through the cracks.
As our county grows, so does class size. I’ve heard that some high school classes top 40 students, while it is not uncommon to have 30 students in elementary school classes. Large class sizes equate to inadequate one-on-one time with teachers, behavior problems, and a less supportive learning environment. In recent years, despite growing enrollment, funding for additional teachers has not been supported. I am hoping that this year is different and we can finally see some relief in this area. When our class sizes are reined in, so many academic and behavior problems will dissipate.
The county council will hold two public budget hearings in May. The first will be on May 9 at 7:00pm at the Arundel Center (44 Calvert Street in Annapolis). The second will be on May 13 at 7:00pm at North County High School (10 E. 1st Avenue in Glen Burnie). I encourage anyone wanting to testify to attend these hearings and advocate for full school funding! Speak from the heart, share your experiences and make your voices heard.