Education this Legislative Session

Caven Wade and Elinor Smith are student reporters with the UM Legislative News Service. This is one of their reports:

HELENA — The 68th Montana Legislature is halfway through its 90-day session and while the budget is the biggest focus of the Legislature in the second half, other topics, including education, will not be far behind.

Republicans and Democrats have found some common ground on education with bills like Senate Bill 8, from Sen. Shannon O’Brien, D-Missoula, which would update personalized learning programs across the state. However, the two parties are still far apart when it comes to other issues. 

Republicans want to give parents more rights in their child’s education, while also setting up more trade school opportunities. Democrats are focused on teacher pay, especially in rural Montana and especially with the increased cost of living.

Senate Bill 70, also sponsored by O’Brien, is aimed at solving the teacher shortage with student loan pay-off incentives. It passed the Senate 46-4 on Feb. 3. 

However, there is also a philosophical battle brewing over education.

One of those arguments is between Rep. Sue Vinton’s, R-Billings, House Bill 562 and Rep. Fred Anderson’s, R-Great Falls, House Bill 549 – both which deal with the implementation of charter schools in the state.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, said charter schools will be a big part of the debate over education in the second half of the session. 

“There’s different views on charter schools, you have some people that believe in a more private model where you give money to a private organization and run a school, and then there’s a group of people that believe that the community charter schools need to be publicly operated and oriented,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said the conservative viewpoint would be to have private entities competing with public schools.

Amanda Curtis, the president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, said a charter program could cause issues to equal access to education in Montana, which could ultimately end up costing Montana more in the long run. 

“If you chart this course out, you can predict that it will end up being an increased cost to the taxpayer because they do have an obligation to adequately fund a free quality public education for every kid,” Curtis said. “And so if they’re going to defund that system to create private charter schools, we’re going to sue and win. And they’re going to have to put more money into the public education system. Which then, I mean, that gets paid for by the taxpayer.” 

 

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