Well, President Chavez has started his own Twitter account, and in only 2 days, has more followers than the Washington Post!!
The clear message is that education is power. And that students of all income levels and backgrounds have the right to equal opportunities in education. When those are available, many of the disparities in our society today will be overcome.
Mr. Escalante's death comes at a pivotal time in the history of our county.
Our county schools are among the best in the nation. But not all of them rate the same. Not all students are able to access the same opportunities. And many begin their academic careers at a disadvantage as a result of economic and language barriers.
Some progress has been made. But much more remains to be done.
Special education is another area where Dr. Jerry Weast and MCPS have made great strides, and I believe they have the best of intentions. However, there are many legitimate issues that need to be addressed. Much like gifted and talented education, in special education, parents and students are finding that education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
But just as this need for new and stronger programs is being recognized, there are dark forces at work attempting to permanently reduce the education budget. These elected officials at the county and state levels are supported by some developers, business interests and assorted special interests, and backed by media and extragovernmental organizations that don't answer to the voters of Montgomery County.
Just this week, we hear that County Executive Ike Leggett, the County Council, and - sadly - even Dr. Weast, are marching in partisan political lockstep to reduce the MCPS budget.
They are requesting from the state the ability to chop $137.7 million from the MCPS FY2011 budget.
I don't have a problem with cutting wasteful spending from the school system; in fact, that has to be done. But the cuts need to be made from wasteful spending, not essential programs. Someone is going to have to get the compensation issues under control before we go bankrupt. School construction contracts have been too favorable to the builders, as we saw when MCPS ended up wasting $500,000 just at Bells Mill in Potomac. Dr. Weast once spent $80,000+ a month fighting to defend an unconstitutional flyer policy.
Like Dr. Weast, our county council appears to have difficulty understanding, interpreting and upholding the law. Even though the Washington Post and other powers tell us that these councilmembers are the only ones who possess the elusive experience and vast knowledge to serve on the county council. Average citizens need not apply!
Yet that vast knowledge and wizardly understanding of "the law" seemed to fail our elite councilmembers last year!
Last year, the council asked for a $79.5M budget cut from the state for MCPS. When the state correctly spurned the request, the councilmembers placed themselves above the law, and illegally went ahead and charged MCPS $79.5M. Under Maryland state law, that was illegal, and the county was, again, correctly slapped with a $23M fine.
That was to ensure that the money was returned to MCPS for FY2010, but also to ensure that the county council would follow the law in the future.
That's where it got really scary. Partisan politics took the place of education. Now you have the governor, the Montgomery County delegation of delegates and senators to the General Assembly in Annapolis, Ike Leggett, the county council, the county school board(!!) and Dr. Weast, in unison, all supporting hundreds of millions less for schools now and in the future.
That partisan team succeeded in getting the fine revoked. Now, with all of those partisan players still in power, there is absolutely nothing stopping the county council from cutting education every single year from now on.
In a cynical county, where the local media lapdogs report only what the elected officials and special interests tell them to, this immoral action is potentially a cynical "win-win" situation for these officials in the 2010 elections. Except there will be losers: the children of Montgomery County. And frankly, the incumbent officeholders couldn't care less.
I believe this action, to deny the funds urgently needed to address the education disparities across our county, is a civil rights issue of paramount importance. Do you?
With no accountability in the press, or from education "advocates" who don't seem to care, even though they've been screaming about education funding for decades (but have suddenly lost interest now that their beloved politicians have bankrupted the county and can't get reelected unless they balance the budget on the backs of children, seniors, the poor and the disabled), who is going to hold these anti-education politicians accountable?
The people of Montgomery County. You've got to get upset about this. I question who you are and your basic sense of decency and humanity if you are just going to sit there and let these people get away with this.
I challenge you to challenge your elected officials on this. And if they succeed in robbing the public schools of Montgomery County while transferring these funds to their cronies in the budget, I challenge you to hold them accountable at the polls on Election Day.
The death of Jaime Escalante could not be a positive development. But what an appropriate time to bring his example to the public's attention once again. A time when we in Montgomery County are making decisions that not only determine the future of education, but also what our basic concept of morality is.