Scholarship funding, more reading, more teacher pay top Gianforte’s education priorities


Governor Greg Gianforte called on parents – and grandparents, aunts and uncles – to help close the learning gap that has emerged after the Covid-19 pandemic by doing something .

“It’s easy. Please read to your child 20 minutes a day. It will help close the gap,” Gianforte said.

Reading and math scores have declined in Montana, though not at the historic lows seen nationally, the governor said. However, he said that children’s literacy skills are very important.

“We have to increase our efforts to get our kids back on track and on the right track,” Gianforte said.

The Republican made the remarks at a recent meeting of the Montana Board of Trustees, where he also reiterated his proposal to double the limits of the Big Sky Scholarship tax credit program and increase funds to support salaries. the teacher.

“We have to pay beginning teachers more for the hard work they do when they start their careers,” Gianforte said.

In phone calls and emails after the meeting, representatives of the Montana Federation of Public Employees and the Montana School Boards Association praised the new teacher funding plan but were divided. comments on plans to raise the education tax limit. program.

IN 2021, the Montana Legislature passed and the governor signed a controversial bill that lowered the tax cap for private school scholarships from $150 to $200,000 each taxpayers and facilitate loans for public school programs.

Legislators set the total allowable funds for each program, one for public and one for private schools, at $1 million in 2022 and $2 million in 2023, with an escalator clause for future growth, or a formula to raise the limit.

In a phone call this week, Rep. Llew Jones, the fund’s chairman, said the plan to be discussed ahead of the legislative session is to raise the total amount to $5 million for each program, although he said the dollar amount could change. .

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“We have to make sure that kids get the highest value and opportunity and choice that they can,” said Jones, R-Conrad.

Basically, Jones said the goal is to expand the program, ensure equal opportunities for public and private parties, and eliminate the way public schools can participate across the board. of Montana.

For example, in the few minutes the loans have been available, donors have contributed the most money to public school programs, according to the Montana Department of Revenue. Revenue reports show one district, Big Sky Public Schools, took in $694,000 of its $1 million debt with just four grants.

The Department of Revenue noted that the private school program also reached its largest contribution in 2022 with the dollar-for-dollar credit. A private scholarship organization, ACE Scholarships, won nearly half of the awards, and a Catholic school and an elementary school won most of the rest, revenue reports said.

Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association, said his organization won’t debate increasing the combined cap. In the 2021 legislative session, he said the organization has decided to “make a lemon” and ensure that the bill also includes the ability to directly support new public school programs.

But if the total amount is 5 million dollars, he said, only 25 people can clear it from the limit of 200,000 dollars. So this time, he said that his organization wants to lower the individual contributions for public schools, maybe $20,000 or $10,000, so that the many people participate.

“By putting some margins on the public side, our hope is to make it more affordable for the average taxpayer and ensure that money is distributed more freely across the state,” he said. Melton.

Jones agreed that the Senate should adjust the program to get more money in many places, but said he did not believe that lowering individual contributions was the right way. He said another way would be to look at the size of a district’s general fund as a measure.

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“I’ve always thought that the private sector would have a lot of donors, but few of them, and the public sector would have more donors, but maybe not that big. It didn’t go as planned,” said Jones.

In the recent legislative session, some educators argued that the tax credit has put resources into private education, and in a statement, the president of the Federation of The state of Montana echoed this idea.

“He, as the governor, is responsible for protecting the public investment so that he is not unconstitutionally expelled from private schools,” the president said. Amanda Curtis in the email.

The Governor also noted his proposal to raise the salary of beginning teachers, which he proposed in the 2021 TEACH Act. New teacher salaries are the lowest in the United States

Last session, the TEACH Act provided incentives for higher pay for beginning teachers based on a model that included contributions from the state and school districts. Since then, Gianforte said a teacher at Hi-Line told him it was possible to quit his second job because of the $3,500 extra pay.

In his budget, Gianforte said he’s offering a 40 percent raise to new hires. This introduction will push the total of $ 3.5 million per year from $ 2.5 million.

The money allowed the school to tap an additional $3,472 to increase the salaries of new teachers. The Governor’s Office noted that it is also proposing increases, to $3,566 in FY2024 and $3,673 in FY2025.

Gianforte described teaching as a calling and did so again at the regents’ meeting.

“For too long, teachers who have answered the call and are just getting started haven’t been paid enough when they start their first year in the classroom,” Gianforte said.

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The TEACH Act will support about 488 teachers in 109 Montana school districts in fiscal year 2023, according to data from the Office of Public Instruction. Some districts get $3,472 from the state to help add one teacher, while others, like Hellgate Elementary in Missoula, get $68,000 to add nearly 20 teachers.

Both Melton and Curtis were receptive to the teacher’s attention.

“The increased support for this program is something that we will support and appreciate,” said Melton, with the Montana School Boards Association.

In a perfect world, he said, starting teachers would earn at least $40,000. When the Montana Legislature adopted new teacher salaries in 2021, a starting salary estimate was $27,000.

MFPE also praised the prominence of teachers’ income.

“MFPE members are pleased that the governor recognizes that the minimum wage for teachers is a barrier to retaining and recruiting the best in Montana and look forward to working with him on meaningful solutions,” said Curtis in an email from his office.

At the regents’ meeting, the governor said he wants to ensure Montana students graduate with a better understanding of civics and personal finance.

He noted that Montana ranks 29th in ensuring access to special financial courses, though he said the Board of Education and Superintendent Elsie Arntzen are excited to bring such courses to the high school.

Gianforte said an entire generation of children has fallen behind since the pandemic, and students have lost valuable learning and social opportunities after “the decision was made to close schools and campuses during the pandemic.” politicians and others.”

The governor called on parents as the most important people in the education of their children to help: “We must protect their rights so that they can participate in the education of their children.”

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan, a nonprofit newsroom. To read the article as originally published, click here.

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