When the Montana Board of Education met last week there were no surprises.
University regents already were well-versed in projects under way through the Montana Office of Public Instruction and the Montana Board of Public Education that oversees K-12 schools.
The K-12 state leaders were already up to speed on Montana University System initiatives, such as increasing the number of Montanans with college credentials from 40 percent to 60 percent, and growing the number of high school students taking college classes.
Last August, Gov. Steve Bullock set a goal of increasing the proportion of Montanans who have completed a two-year or four-year college degree. The Complete College Montana initiative is working on several fronts to encourage students to complete degrees on a timely basis, which is the most cost effective route for students and workforce development.
A state task force is working to remove barriers to dual high school-college enrollment for high school students. Between spring 2012 and fall 2013, the number of Montana high school students taking college courses increased 53 percent to 1,616 students.
Bullock, father of three young, children, also touted new investment in early childhood education to help get little ones ready for kindergarten.
Bullock noted that money invested in high-quality early childhood education has been shown to generate a nine-fold return. Children who start kindergarten with fewer skills than their peers are at higher risk of dropping out before they get a high school diploma.
Children with special needs and those from low-income households can reap the biggest gains from quality early childhood education. Bullock cited some excellent Montana preschool programs, but said there is still plenty of work to do.
Preventing dropouts starts long before high school. And the seeds of college success are sown years before students are admitted. Education advocates must be concerned about preschool through graduate school.
Juneau credited the governor for bringing the Office of Public Instruction and the Department of Public Health and Human Services together to work on improving early childhood services. She noted that OCHE and OPI have partnered on such projects providing all public high school juniors the opportunity to take the ACT college entrance exam free of charge.
Bullock has been “nurturing a spirit of collaboration” between the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Board of Public Education, said Sharon Carrol, who chairs the board.
Bullock will have to translate his passion for education into budget and legislative proposals that can win majority support in 2015. But it bodes well for our future when education leaders see themselves as partners working for the benefit of all Montana. How refreshing to see college educators and preschool advocates recognize they are all on the same team.