Thursday, November 19, 2009

Michelle Obama Spotlights Hollin Meadows Elementary

Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Hollin Meadows Elementary School. Hollin Meadows is right on the border of the 44th District in Kirkside Precinct, but also serves many children in the 44th district who live in Sherwood and Bucknell Precincts. The school is a terrific success story.

The student population at Hollin Meadows is very unique. The school draws from the solidly middle-class sections neighborhoods of Kirkside, Hollin Hills, Milway Meadows, and parts of Hollin Brook Park, but also from the diverse and less affluent Mount Vernon Square Apartments, Cherry Arms Apartments, and Woodley Estates mobile home park on U.S. 1. Over 18 languages are spoken at the school representing over 30 countries. Over 70% of school population is minority and it is classified as a Title I School due to its low income population with 45% of the students receiving free or subsidized lunches.

The parents-teacher organization has been very active in focusing on how to best provide an education to every child at the school and very active in alternative programs. Hollin Meadows is a Math & Science Focus School and as part of that the PTA has focused on a children's outdoors education and gardening to help the kids with science. Today's Washington Post article focuses the First Lady's recognition of this program.

Programs like this have been a real success story. Student test scores have risen dramatically over the past four years - with over 85% of last year's 6th graders passing their 6th grade Standars of Learning English Exam and 75% passing Math. The parents and the students are happy. The schools is a terrific success story about how a community can come together to build a valuable institution.

Unfortunately, the recession has jeopardized about $200,000 per year of funding for the school's Math & Science focus programs. Other schools in the 44th District are facing similar cuts in their own focus programs plus valuable programs like full-day kindergarten which currently exists at 12 of 13 elementary schools that serve the 44th.

If the state provided a fair share of support to Fairfax County's Schools this would not be as much of a problem. I raised this issue in my campaign. Fairfax County only receives about 20% of its school funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia - other jurisdictions receive over 70%.

Schools are largely funded with local real estate taxes. Fairfax County's real estate tax rate is $1.04 per $1,000 of value. In jurisdictions whose school programs are heavily subsidized by the Commonwealth, their real estate tax rate is less than $0.50 per $1,000 of value (plus their property is worth a lot less than ours). Addressing these structural funding problems in Virginia's budget is one way to help resolve Virginia's current budget crisis and provide long-term relief in ways that does not sacrifice our children's futures.

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