Gazette opinion: Speak up for K-12 public school students today

2013-04-12T00:10:00Z 2013-04-17T14:48:04Z Gazette opinion: Speak up for K-12 public school students today The Billings Gazette
April 12, 2013 12:10 am

The Montana House is expected to vote today on education legislation that was developed over the past two years with input from many people all over this great state.

However, the version of Senate Bill 175 that came out of House Education Committee on Wednesday was stripped of the needed reforms that educators, parents and the great majority of state senators supported.

SB175 must be amended to restore the balanced proposals that would advance educational opportunity for all Montana students — in the east and west, in rural and urban districts.

Call the House

If you care about quality public education in your community, today is the day to tell your state representative to vote for jettisoning the House Education Committee amendments.

As Gazette readers know, Billings Public Schools doesn’t have the resources to hire enough teachers to maintain the teacher-student ratio required for accreditation. SB175 as passed by the Senate would allow the growing Billings school district to hire sufficient staff — if local voters also approve levy increases on the May 7 ballot.

The House Education Committee on Wednesday axed reforms that would allow our schools to have the funding needed to meet state accreditation standards.

On Monday, dozens of school supporters from Kalispell to Ekalaka went to Helena and told the House Education Committee to approve SB175, because it helps school districts of all sizes and circumstances deal with increased financial pressures.

“This is the best school-funding proposal that I’ve seen in my 20 years of coming to the Legislature,” said Tim Tharp, superintendent of schools in Sunburst, and president of the Montana Rural Education Association.

Ann Hokanson, a school trustee from Harrison, said the state funding boost from SB175 would increase support for her district — thus avoiding possible property tax increases for local property owners.

Ceci Bentler of Billings brought her five children to the hearing and told committee members how important SB175 is for K-12 education.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, proposed amendments that would reduce the bill’s overall cost. However, the House committee added other amendments and slashed the bill’s two-year price tag by two-thirds.

Restore reforms

Billings Superintendent Terry Bouck was among more than 60 proponents of SB175 who testified at the committee hearing Monday.

“I am hopeful that the legislators will think of our kids first and reinstate most of those items taken out,” Bouck said Thursday.

“We are intent on repairing the bill and restoring the balanced combination of funding and flexibility for student achievement, protection of taxpayers and alignment of the success of natural resource development and the success of our public schools that represent the collective vision of Senate Bill 175 as intended by each of our groups and Senator Jones,” Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association, said Thursday.

Time is running out. Please contact your state representative today and ask him or her to amend SB175 so it will support your local schools. Check the box above for the fastest ways to contact lawmakers.

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