MoCo residents push back on Rice's minimum wage vote at education forum

Montgomery County residents affiliated with Progressive Maryland repeatedly challenged County Council member Craig Rice on his vote against a $15 minimum wage at Wednesday night’s (March 8) education forum.

 /PM BlogSpace Report/ Montgomery County residents affiliated with Progressive Maryland repeatedly challenged County Council member Craig Rice on his vote against a $15 minimum wage at Wednesday night’s (March 8) education forum. Progressive Maryland also voiced concerns mentioned by Montgomery County Education Association members about working conditions for teachers in the county. And MCEA audience members urged Rice to fully fund the budget to address ESOL, special education and reading needs and told Superintendent Jack Smith that union members’ skills and knowledge should be critical consultative elements in the school administration’s policy and planning.

 The County has planned a series of five education budget forums to hear from residents about their concerns related to the public school system in the county. Yesterday’s forum was held at Montgomery Blair High School in SIlver Spring.

 Rice, who is chair of the education committee, opened with remarks about the need to address childhood poverty as a means of curtailing negative educational outcomes. He went on to say that there is a sense that Montgomery County is affluent, but a wealthy few artificially inflate the county’s economic health. Earning a six-figure salary, Rice is one of the wealthy few that impact the county’s economy in this manner.

Residents spoke passionately about their own struggles working for low wages and concerns regarding academic achievement among minority and low-income students. Several mentioned their own desire to raise families in Montgomery County, but were concerned about their ability to do so when wages are so low.

 “I don’t want to be an absent father because I can’t be home with my kids when I already work full-time,” said resident Patrick Luck in reference to the need by many parents to work multiple jobs.

 Councilmember Rice joined three of his colleagues earlier this year in voting against a bill that would have raised the county minimum wage to $15/hour. The measure passed by a 5-4 vote, but was then vetoed by Democratic county executive Ike Leggett.

 Speakers made reference to his role in the bill’s failure, saying he stood between them and a living wage. Rice continuously claimed to support a $15 minimum wage, saying he was more concerned about those unemployeds’ ability to find work to begin with. Residents challenged Rice, cautioning him against pitting the unemployed and underemployed workers against each other.

 “It makes absolutely no sense for him to claim to be an anti-poverty advocate while doing nothing to benefit working people. He’s implying that raising wages will hurt employment, which has consistently been proven to be false. Higher wages means more money being spent in the local economy and that creates jobs,” said Justin Vest, Montgomery County organizer for Progressive Maryland.

 Earlier this week, advocacy groups including Progressive Maryland were in Annapolis to announce support for a statewide $15 minimum wage bill, HB1416/SB0962.