Action In Montgomery (AIM) made a strong case Tuesday night for expanded after-school and enrichment programs during a standing-room-only meeting attended by all four Montgomery County candidates for county executive.
AIM, a church-based citizens organization, presented its new initiative for after-school programs to one of the largest crowds to assemble in Montgomery County during this election season. AIM has been known for its support of affordable and senior housing in Montgomery, where many senior citizens and working families feel priced out of the housing market. AIM was also a strong supporter of the Dream Act in Maryland, and is a voice for the African immigrant community in Montgomery.
In a county known for affluence, AIM advocates for citizens who are often overlooked and underserved, especially seniors and those living in poverty. Speakers said that 50,000 children in Montgomery County are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
“Too many go home to empty apartments because their parents work such long hours, just to get by,” said Keith Jones, principal of Summit Hall Elementary School in Gaithersburg. Jones and other AIM speakers said after-school programs are desperately needed by poor children. Such programs keep children safe after school and also provide increased opportunities for learning, they said.
All county executive candidates — three Democrats and one Republican — proclaimed their admiration of AIM. They all voiced support for AIM’s goals, to one degree or another. Doug Duncan, a former county executive, voiced the strongest support for affordable housing.
AIM is the “single most powerful citizen’s organization in Montgomery County,” according to its leaders. The group demonstrated its ability to turn out a large and enthusiastic crowd of supporters Tuesday night. The assembly, estimated at 550 to 600 strong, filled every seat in the sanctuary and the balcony of a large Silver Spring church. Cars overflowed the church’s parking lot.
The Tuesday night event was unusual in one way. At campaign forums and debates, candidates usually do most of the talking. This time, AIM leaders did most of the talking from the lectern and were interrupted frequently by applause. The candidates mostly listened. They were given a limited amount of time to comment on AIM goals, and an opportunity for very brief statements at the end.
All three Democrats supported AIM’s goal of at least 1,000 new affordable housing units a year. The lone Republican offered to support affordable housing by privatizing the county’s liquor stores.
After the meeting, AIM leaders thought County Executive Ike Leggett, running for re-election, voiced stronger support for consistent annual funding of affordable housing than previously. However, there was some uncertainty as to whether Leggett gave an absolute promise of the 2.5 percent of county property tax revenues sought by AIM. Some heard him promise to “work toward” that goal.
Duncan voiced a loud and unequivocal promise of the 2.5 percent minimum funding every year if he’s elected county executive.
Council Member Phil Andrews, who advocates moderation in county spending, declined to promise. He has opposed a similar minimum spending requirement for public schools, and said he would not support mandatory spending for any government program.
Andrews assured AIM of his support for the organization’s goals, but said,”The answer to affordable housing isn’t all about money.” He noted the importance of preserving existing affordable housing as well as building new affordable housing.
There’s no doubt that after-school programs are sorely needed and would be of great benefit to children, especially children of low-income families. However, AIM’s strong support for after-school and enrichment programs is new, and ambitious new goals often take several years to achieve. Since nearly all Democratic candidates support universal pre-K, 2014 is probably not an auspicious election year to propose an additional educational program.
What do you think about after-school programs and affordable housing? Please voice your opinions below.
— John Hayden