Elsie Arntzen’s first 180 days in office as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction will be the first governed by a Republican in almost 30 years.
After defeating Democrat Melissa Romano handily in Tuesday’s election, Arntzen said that she’s putting together a plan to ensure a “seamless transition” with a legislative session looming.
“When I come into office, the school year’s going to be half over,” she said. “My purpose is to serve and to make sure it’s a seamless transition.”
Arntzen campaigned largely on promoting local control and flexibility for school districts and expressed reservations about Montana Common Core standards and Smarter Balanced standardized tests, though she didn’t say she’d push to replace either.
Arntzen claimed 52 percent of the vote to Romano's 48 percent.
On Wednesday, Arntzen said she’d review the contract with testing vendors, examining whether or not the effort educators put into administering the tests is worth it. New federal education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act, continues to require states to give a standardized test, but doesn’t necessarily link scores to consequences for schools. It’s unclear how Donald Trump’s presidential victory will affect rulemaking for the legislation, which is ongoing.
Montana is putting together its own plan for how to comply with ESSA, which the Office of Public Instruction has been planning to submit to the Department of Education before current Superintendent Denise Juneau leaves office. It’s unclear what influence Arntzen could have on retracting or changing that plan, but she’s said she believes that process is moving too fast.
An OPI spokeswoman said that the state's submission timeline has not changed.
She said that she’s talked to officials in Washington who indicated that Trump’s election could mean submission deadlines for the plans are delayed.
“It needs to be a plan that reflects Montana,” she said.
You have free articles remaining.
The superintendent typically plays a large role lobbying for educational initiatives during the legislature. Arntzen said she’s looking to put together a bipartisan education caucus to discuss issues, and that she’ll be participating in upcoming Republican caucuses.
During the campaign, Romano and the state teacher’s union, MEA-MFT, worked to emphasize Arntzen’s legislative votes supporting tax credits for donations to private schools and education savings accounts, which could send public money typically allotted to public schools on a per-student basis to private schools.
Arntzen didn’t specifically address school choice measures during the campaign, calling them legislative issues.
Romano called Arntzen Wednesday morning to concede the race; with more than 450,000 votes counted, Arntzen led by almost 20,000 votes, outperforming Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte.
Romano congratulated Arntzen on her campaign Facebook page.
"There aren't enough words to express my deep gratitude to all of you, my tremendous supporters, during this campaign to represent public education," the post said. "Congratulations are due to Elsie Arntzen as she takes on the role of State Superintendent of Public Instruction."
Arntzen said she believed “national flavor” helped tip the superintendent race toward Republicans, in addition to debate about Common Core standards, which have been strongly endorsed by many education groups but widely criticized outside the education sphere.
“More individuals have looked at education more than they’ve done before,” Arntzen said.
Romano was backed by big spending from the state teacher’s union, fueled in part by donations from national teacher’s unions. Overall spending between candidates and the union appeared to reach record highs for the superintendent's race. Arntzen, a union member when teaching in Billings, has repeatedly characterized the union as a “special interest group.”
Arntzen said she’s looking to bring all parties to the table when discussing educational issues, including the union.
“My job is to make sure teachers have what they need and go forward,” she said.