Overcrowding in Montgomery County Public Schools
Montgomery County has been facing school overcrowding as a major concern for decades, but the issue has become more severe in the last 10 years. Of the 208 schools in the district, 101 are currently overcapacity. The main factor contributing to overcrowding is the large influx of students due to the growth of Montgomery County. Since 2010, the population of the county has grown 9.3%, above the national average, while schools accommodated over 30,000 new students in the last 20 years. 141,777 students attended MCPS schools in 2010: this number rose to 165,267 in 2020, showing an increase of 23,490 students enrolled, a 16.5% growth rate. Jack Smith, the former MCPS Superintendent, states that they (MCPS) had “added a school every single year” as well as “multiple additions” yearly since he took office, but that overcrowding was still a major concern due to the continuous growth rate of the county: overcapacity is around 10% in schools county wide.
Not only is overcrowding a major issue across the county, but it is especially prevalent in regions with higher minority populations. For example, Clarksburg Elementary School, with 87% minority enrollment, exceeds their capacity twofold. Over 800 students are enrolled for the 2021-22 school year even though the building’s student capacity is 311.
The effects of overcrowding on classrooms and the learning environment are staggering. According to research done by the National School Board Administration, overcrowding in schools “can reduce students’ ability to pay attention to teachers’ instruction and even increase students’ behavior issues” significantly, especially high school. The rate of both student and teacher absenteeism is also significantly higher in schools with at least 5% overcapacity, while public schools that do not face overcrowding report significantly higher scores in both reading and math. For Montgomery County specifically, with overcapacity at a record high 10%, only 36.3% of students achieved proficiency in MCAP Testing across English, Math, and Science. Proficiency rates were significantly lower among minority groups, especially African-Americans and Hispanics, which demonstrates the true harm of overcrowded schools on minority students within the county. However, the issue is also widespread, even in a rich country such as Montgomery, and must be dealt with effectively.
It is imperative that Montgomery County allocates more funding to open a greater number of schools or expand existing schools, especially in highly populated areas such as Gaitherburg. Even though the county has successfully constructed several new elementary, middle, and high schools to accommodate the increasing number of students since the 2000’s (such as Silver Creek), it is clear that the issue of overcrowding persists in several regions. Currently, the county allocates 80.4% of its educational budget towards Instruction, totalling $2.347 billion for the 2022-23 school year. In comparison, only 13.9% is allocated for School Support Services, like counseling, while 2.9% is directed towards Systemwide Support, constructing new buildings or extending existing schools, for a combined total of $490.5 billion. Even though resources for instruction are vital, if both students and teachers are situated in an overcrowded and unruly learning environment, it is detrimental to both physical and mental health. Therefore, these statistics make it clear that greater funding can be allocated towards opening and expanding schools within the county, especially middle and high schools due to the ‘feeder’ system of the county, where multiple elementary and middle schools lead into one middle or high school.
To begin with, a proposal by the MCPS District Finance Team to increase funding for Systemwide Support by $1 billion would ensure that the issue of overcrowding can be erased from MCPS. The average cost to construct a new school in the US, averaging costs between elementary, middle, and high schools, is $30 million. Considering each new school could house 1,000 students, the county would only need to construct 24 new schools to eliminate overcrowding concerns for all students in the district. This would total $720 million, a significant but manageable one-time investment that many students in Montgomery County desperately need for a positive learning environment. An additional $280 million would also allow existing schools to install more permanent extensions, many of which are currently low-quality, temporary trailers and other mobile units. Contributing an additional $75 million to the yearly budget for Systemwide Support (with MCPS committee approval) would also allow the county to stay on top of the rapid increase in student population by consistently building or extending schools. Meanwhile, Instructional and School Support budgets can remain roughly the same because the number of total enrolled students remains roughly the same: only their school-wide distribution is altered.
Not only will constructing new schools ease the stress on teachers and students alike and increase test scores, but it will provide much needed updates to school infrastructure for thousands of children. Currently, about 40% of Montgomery County schools were constructed between 1950 and 1969. The age of these buildings has resulted in persistent infrastructure and health-related issues in schools for decades, including obsolete ventilation systems, dampness, leaky and rusty pipes, few water fountains, lack of air conditioning and heating units, and more. Constructing new buildings, equipped with modern technology and ventilation, will ensure both students and teachers more comfortable and safe work environments. Ultimately, Montgomery County must amend its budget to include more funding for school expansion to improve the learning environment and decrease distractions in schools for students and teachers alike.
07/01/15. (n.d.). School costs: Did you know... Spaces4Learning. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://spaces4learning.com/articles/2015/07/01/school-costs.aspx#:~:text=The%20median%20high%20school%20cost,at%20%2449%2C000%20for%20each%20student
King, S. (n.d.). Montgomery Planning - development in Montgomery County, MD. Montgomery County Planning. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://montgomeryplanning.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/MP_TrendsReport_final.pdf
Lieberman, M. (2021, May 11). The Dismal State of School Infrastructure, in charts. Education Week. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/the-dismal-state-of-school-infrastructure-in-charts/2021/04
Montgomery County Public Schools. Budget Information for Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, MD. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2022, from https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/about/budget.aspx
Montgomery County Public Schools. Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, MD. (n.d.). Retrieved August 7, 2022, from https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/
Revollo, M. (2019, December 10). Montgomery County continues to deal with school overcrowding. Rockville, MD Patch. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://patch.com/maryland/rockville/montgomery-county-continues-deal-school-overcrowding
Summers, A. (n.d.). Montgomery County Public Schools - U.S. News Education. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.usnews.com/education/k12/maryland/districts/montgomery-county public-schools-104047
Toth, S. (2019, June 4). Baker joins Montgomery, Baltimore executives in asking for school funds. Baltimore Sun. Retrieved August 10, 2022, from https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/laurel/ph-laurel-baker-schools-20140122-story.html
Written by Educational Policy Department
Published by PR Department