Montgomery County public school parents can look to the fall with great hopes now that the County Council has approved 99.5 percent of the school system's 2006 budget request.
The money will go toward expanding the all-day kindergarten program, which school officials credit with helping to boost reading and math scores at several elementary campuses, as well as providing additional funding for gifted and talented programs. Earlier this month, the school board unanimously accepted the $1.7 billion budget for 2006 -- an increase of almost $101 million, or 6.2 percent over the previous fiscal year. Schools make up roughly 48 percent of the county budget.
"This budget reflects an extraordinary cooperative effort on the part of the community, the county government and the school system," said Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.
In late May, the County Council approved all but about $2.1 million in proposed technology improvements.
Although the school system did get less money than expected from the state, federal funds will help make up that gap, so no programs will have to be eliminated.
The budget includes several new and expanded programs likely to please parents.
For the first time in almost two decades, the school system will reduce class size at all grade levels. About $9.5 million will go toward hiring approximately 170 teachers. The school system's goal is to do away with combination classes and reduce the number of children in elementary classes by two students.
The all-day kindergarten initiative, already in place in 73 schools, will expand by 20 this fall. Educators have credited all-day kindergarten with helping to boost students' test scores in the primary grades. State law requires all Maryland schools to offer all-day kindergarten by 2008.
More money -- $3.1 million -- will also be spent on special education programs. Funds will be used to move special education students into less restrictive learning environments and to expand the Collaborative Action Process, a program that offers a more personalized approach to students having learning difficulties.
Elementary campuses that have only one administrator will receive additional help with $1.2 million budgeted for hiring 15 assistant principals. Gifted and talented and International Baccalaureate programs will also receive a $345,000 boost.