Rob Natelson's misguided guest editorial (May 16 Gazette) contains inaccuracies and distortions of fact. For starters, a typical parent moving to Bozeman Montana from anywhere in Colorado would likely be grateful to have such a high quality education system in which to place their children. They would find the following comparisons to be among the most compelling in this regard:
- Montana's graduation rate is 77.6 percent (9th in the nation). Colorado's is 62 percent (37th).
- Montana's average ACT score is 21.7 (13th highest in the nation). Colorado's is 20.1 (39th).
- Montana's fourth-graders scored No. 2 in the nation on National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests. Their Colorado peers were No. 8.
- Montana had the third-highest NAEP reading scores among eighth-graders. Colorado's eighth-grade scores ranked No. 14.
Looks like Colorado is not quite the paradise that Mr. Natelson would have you believe.
Unconstitutional bill Charter schools like those contemplated in Rep. Dave Kasten's bill are unconstitutional in Montana, a crucial fact apparently lost on Mr. Natelson. The Montana School Boards Association was one of many opponents to Rep. Kasten's bill. We took issue, not with the concept of innovation in public education, which we heartily support, but with the fact that this bill failed to provide for supervision and control by popularly-elected trustees as required by Article X, Section 8 of the Montana Constitution. It is hard to imagine how someone could object to the concept that public schools should be accountable to those paying the bill, but that is precisely the objection of both Rep. Kasten and Mr. Natelson.
Regarding other errors in Mr. Natelson's article:
- The 2003 Legislature passed school funding legislation that cuts the state's funding levels from the present year's funding levels by $24 million over the next two years (Source: Legislative Fiscal Division). State funding of public education has fallen behind inflation by a staggering 14 percent since 1994 alone, while local property taxes have risen 35 percent beyond inflation during the same time period. It is not simply about how much schools receive, but from whom they receive it. The current system of funding our schools is unbalanced with an inordinate reliance on the local taxpayer to pay for the costs of education.
- There are school districts throughout Montana that have an open enrollment policy, and waive tuition all the time. Open enrollment, like many other issues in Montana, is a matter of local control. With local taxpayers picking up a disproportionate share of educating our children, that is as it should be. Mr. Natelson's contention that open enrollment does not exist in Montana is incorrect.
- The only national rankings that place Montana at the bottom are those based on the same primary flaw evident throughout Mr. Natelson's diatribe. These rankings do not look at the results, but rather focus on the extent to which the state (again, not the local school board) measures the results. Such rankings fail to account for Montana's excellent performance in the classroom. One has to look no further than the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which has continually ranked Montana as among the top five states in quality of their public K-12 education system (http://www.alec.org/meSWFiles/ pdf/Education Report card.pdf). One could also look to Morgan Quitno's rankings in its "smartest state" award, where Montana K-12 public education was ranked the 3rd best in the nation in 2002.
Finding quality leaders There is one item upon which Mr. Natelson and I agree. Our children's future DOES depend on our electing leaders with vision and guts. Those people, however, need not be elected to serve in Helena in order for Montana to continue its excellence in public education. They need to be elected to serve, on a volunteer basis, in each of our communities, as they have been for over a century in Montana. The 1,800 elected leaders that I serve in my capacity as executive director of the Montana School Boards Association demonstrate both vision and guts on a daily basis, serving each of the school districts in this state while Mr. Natelson takes unfair potshots at a public education system that is doing quite well despite a lack of adequate funding. My members would not have it any other way.