Archive for K-12 & Higher Ed
Amongst a sea of highly politicized legislation introduced this Session, attacking everything from ballot access to women’s rights, dedicated legislators continue to bring forward bills aimed at creating common sense solutions and benefiting hardworking Montanans.
An undeniable problem in the United States is the cost of post-secondary education, and the hugely burdensome debt that accompanies the pursuit of bettering oneself. The total amount of student loan debt in the US is currently larger than the total amount of credit card debt.
This is inexcusable and does not reflect the values on which America was built.
Friday afternoon the House Education Committee heard House Bill 166, sponsored by Freshman Representative Amanda Curtis (D-Butte). HB166, which Curtis calls her “Win-Win” bill, would direct state lottery income from the general fund to a fund specifically for education, providing scholarships to resident students pursuing higher education. When Montanans originally voted on the lottery, the revenues were intended to benefit education, but this vision has since been lost. This bill is designed with that original intent in mind, and adds no taxes to accomplish its goal.
Curtis is a math teacher by trade, and has seen first hand the necessity of investing in Montana students. In her closing statements, Curtis said “every lottery player gets a ticket and hopes they’re going to win. Every student that comes out of high school with aspirations to get a college degree hopes they’re going to win too. We [as a legislative body] have a chance to help those odds along. We can’t do anything about the lottery odds, but we have a chance to increase the odds for our students.”
Montana’s economy is doing well, so let’s plan for the future by raising the bar even higher for access to education so our students can thrive in a state that clearly values their endeavors and offers them every opportunity for success.
When adjusted for cost of living and average income, the Montana University System is among the ten least affordable in the country.The average amount of state aid provided for students has dropped by almost 40% since 1996. Curtis’ bill would address a serious gap of financial aid between those who can afford to pay their own tuition and those with a low enough income to qualify for financial aid. A large majority of Montanans fall in this range, graduating with an average debt of $25,000 despite many of them working multiple jobs throughout their education.
Written by MDLCC Legislative Assistant Cassie Hintz
Republicans proved once again that they are only interested in talking about jobs and not at all concerned with actually bringing new jobs to the state. They voted today to kill the the most important jobs bill of the session, the so called “bonding bill.”
This bill would have allowed communities to access money to invest in crucial projects in every corner of the state. These projects include upgrades to the University of Montana College of Technology, the MSU-Northern Auto Tech Center, MSU-Billings Science and Technology Building, as well as projects in Helena, Butte, Bozeman and Great Falls.
The bill would have had an immediate job creating impact, which is why contractors and businesses from throughout the state supported the measure. It would have also made Montana a more competitive state for bringing new businesses to the state in the future, because of the better educated workforce and educational infrastructure.
Yesterday, during debate on the bill, legislators from both parties rose to talk about the importance of making this investment in our infrastructure, and explained that Montana was uniquely position to make this investment that would make the state an economic leader for decades to come.
Unfortunately, 13 Republicans chose to play politics with the future of Montana and switched their votes between the initial House approval of the bill and today’s failure of the bill. These Republicans are:
- Bill Beck
- Mike Cuffe
- Ron Ehli
- Kelly Flynn
- Alan Hale
- Bill Harris
- Gordon Hendrick
- Pat Ingraham
- Doug Kary
- Tom McGillvray
- Mike Milburn
- Wayne Stahl
- Ted Washburn
The House has 24 hours to reconsider their actions, however the likelihood of this happening is slim, so this bill is likely dead.
UPDATE: Late today, Democrats were able to force the House to reconsider their actions on the Bonding Bill. The Bill will be up on third reading again tomorrow.
The jobs bill of the session, Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh’s (D-Helena) “bonding bill” has received initial approval from the Senate today, with wide bipartisan support. The bill passed second reading by a 36-14 vote. It still faces a final vote in the Senate, before being returned to the House for concurrence.
During debate on the measure, both Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that this bill would provide an important jump-start to local economies throughout the state and would ensure we had an economically competitive workforce for decades to come.
All session long, Democrats have maintained that the best way to ensure long-term economic success and bring new businesses to the state now is by having a strong educational infrastructure. This bill would give our colleges and universities the money they need in order to upgrade their outdated facilities. Many of the schools included in this bill are currently serving more than three times the number of students they were initially intended to. This will give our students a better environment to learn.
In addition, this bill would put people to work on shovel ready projects almost immediately. Many of the projects included in the bill have been planned for quite some time, however these schools didn’t have the resources to pursue these plans. This bill will give them the necessary resources.
Unfortunately, the GOP majority in the House today officially killed the Schools Are For Education (SAFE) anti-bullying bill. The bill would establish a system for all school districts to set up an anti-bullying policy that fits their community’s needs.
This bill has had one of the most interesting journeys through the legislature. It had been pronounced dead several times in the Senate, only to pass with bipartisan support. However, upon coming to the House it received a much colder reception.
The bill was stalled in committee, however Rep. Edie McClafferty (D-Butte) today sought to blast the bill from committee for a full floor debate. During her speech on the measure she explained the importance of students feeling safe in their schools and how that directly impacted their academic performance. Proponents of the measure also reminded members of the House that they recently passed a measure that would protect hunters from cyber-bullying.
Unfortunately, the bill died with very little Republican support. Montana will remain one of 4 states in the nation that does not have a policy to combat bullying in their schools.
The GOP plan to drastically re-engineer Montana’s public education system appears to be dead. After receiving initial approval from the Senate yesterday, the bill failed on a 25-25 vote in the body today.
The bill sought to radically change the way our public education system works. Opponents of the bill argued that the bill would unnecessarily complicate our public education system and possibly set teachers and students up for failure.
In addition, many believed the measure would have raised taxes on some Montanans in order to pay for holes in their funding scheme.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jones, was concocted in the dark of night, with no input from Democrats and many Republicans were left in the dark as well. This was highlighted when some Republicans came to Democratic education experts to ask what was in the bill.
While they maintain the education funding debate will continue, the failure of this bill leaves the Republican majority in a tight spot. They now appear to have to concrete plan to fund our schools, as directed by the state constitution and seem unwilling to work with Democrats to come up with a solution that puts the needs of Montana students ahead of the political desires of a few extremist Republicans.