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Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett pushes education, development initiatives

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Local,Maryland,Education,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett in his State of the County speech Wednesday night focused on new education and development initiatives and criticized state officials for not finding more money for transportation.

He outlined areas in which the county has improved and where the county can continue to make gains, focusing specifically on education, business, development and transportation.

Despite a lagging economy, Leggett said the county has been focused on economic development and pushing for transit projects such as the Purple Line and bus rapid transit. The biggest hurdles for officials, however, are state lawmakers dragging their feet when discussing ways to raise revenues and dwindling funds from the federal government.

"We can't build these critical transportation projects unless we can pay for them," he said. "Montgomery County is doing its part. But we can't -- and we shouldn't -- have to shoulder the burden all alone."

This is the first time in four years Leggett has given the speech.

He also introduced three initiatives he plans to undertake in the last two years of his second term. One would streamline the county's development process to make the area more attractive to outside business. Leggett said officials and stakeholders have identified 60 areas in which improvements could make the process less redundant.

Without going into much detail, he said the improvements are expected to cut about one year from development and construction projects.

Another proposed initiative would make it easier for English-as-a-second-language residents to master the language, enabling them to get better jobs and expand the county's tax base. It would put more money toward adult English education and encourage more residents to become volunteer teachers in the county's English-language-learning network.

Lastly, he wants to create a Partnership for Educational Achievement to help underperforming students excel. His proposal would expand the current "Excel Beyond the Bell" program -- an after-school support system available in just a few middle schools in the county -- to all middle schools.

Leggett said he believes the county is on an economic upswing, although its economy has been suffering during his six-year tenure as county executive.

"Please be reminded that for the past six years, we have wrestled with deficits and downturns in our county," he said. "But we are now emerging ever stronger from the recession."

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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