A graph showing the distribution of ESOL and FARMS-eligible students among MCPS schools. Credit: via Montgomery County Council

The Montgomery County school system exacerbates student achievement disparities by concentrating its low-income students in a handful of schools, according to a county report.

The report, produced by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight, says 75% of all black, Latino and English language learners in elementary school, and more than 80% of elementary school students in poverty, are enrolled in the district’s “focus,” or high poverty schools. Meanwhile, more than 66% of all white and Asian elementary students are enrolled in low-poverty schools.

Focus schools have high concentrations of students in poverty, but are not eligible for Title 1 funding, according to an MCPS spokesman.

“If MCPS’ campuses were not segregated by race, ethnicity, English proficiency, or income, half of each student subgroup would enroll in focus [and] non-focus schools,” the report says.

A graph showing the distribution of black and Latino students among MCPS focus and non-focus schools. via Montgomery County Council
A graph showing the distribution of white and Asian students among MCPS focus and non-focus schools. via Montgomery County Council

At a meeting of the Montgomery County Council’s Education & Culture Committee on Monday, Chairman Craig Rice highlighted MCPS’ ongoing countywide boundary analysis as an effort to examine and address segregated schools.

“I think it is a good thing that we embarked on a boundary study in MCPS,” Rice said. “We have high concentrations of poverty schools surrounded by schools that don’t have that high concentration of poverty. … I think we’ve done a great job in embracing this.”


Additionally, the report found that MCPS underfunds its programs for English language learners (ESOL) and “compensatory education programs,” relative to the additional state aid it receives for such programs.

Compensatory programs are designed to “offset the impact of poverty on student achievement,” according to County Council documents.

The report says MCPS allocates one-third of the state aid it receives based on free and reduced-price meals (FARMS) enrollment to programs that do not directly target low-income students or high-poverty schools.


And, despite ESOL students having the lowest performance levels in several areas — graduation rate, English and math proficiency and SAT performance — the per-pupil spending for the group has decreased by $100 since fiscal year 2014.

“The gaps in funding for compensatory education, this is absolutely just not acceptable at all,” Council Member Nancy Navarro said. “I understand how much MCPS and the Board of Education have been working to … address these issues. I get that. At the same time, these children don’t have the luxury of waiting for us to figure things out.”

In total, in Fiscal Year 2019, MCPS allocated $11,700 per general education student, about $13,600 for low-income students, $14,500 for ESOL students and $34,600 for each special education student.


One in three students qualify for FARMS and one in six are English language learners, according to MCPS data.

In response to the county report, the County Council is calling on the school district to develop an “integration and equitable funding plan” and ensure all money designated by the state for compensatory education and ESOL programs are used for such programs. Additionally, the council asks MCPS to adopt a racial equity and social justice policy, similar to the recently-adopted countywide policy that mandates equity impact statements for all new bills and budget measures.

“This work isn’t easy, and there’s no doubt MCPS wants to make the changes, but it’s hard when you don’t have all the answers,” Rice said. “We, as a collective community, do own the responsibility of trying to come up with a solution.”


Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com