Billings Gazette Editorial
Undaunted by a looming winter storm, seven legislative committee members from as far away as Medicine Lake met at the Billings Community Center with 70 Billings area citizens. They gathered Wednesday night for a hearing on state K-12 education funding. Several more Billings legislators, parents, school trustees and educators from our region attended. The turnout underscored the importance of solving the funding problems.
The Governor's Education Funding Advisory Council has made recommendations for making the state system more equitable and more stable, including:
Developing a statewide health insurance pool to help local districts manage the burgeoning cost of employee health benefits. Last year, Montana K-12 schools spent $63 million for employee health insurance.
Building an inflation factor into the funding formula so that schools would be able to keep up with price increases. Cost: $11.8 million annually, assuming a 2 percent inflation rate.
Slowing the rate of funding cuts for schools with declining pupil enrollment. The proposal would use a three-year student average for schools with declining enrollment so that they could plan for a more gradual reduction in staff and services. Estimated cost: $11 million to $14 million annually.
Using countywide levies, instead of individual school district levies, to fund teacher retirement, employee health insurance and the state-mandated local property tax. Some people at Wednesday's hearing advocated going a step further to statewide levies that would be the same for all Montana taxpayers.
Other issues, such as funding adequacy, also need to be addressed in comprehensive legislation. Two points are clear now:
First, reform is critical. We do not want more schools closed or more students crowded into the remaining classrooms.
Second, improvement is going to require an overall increase in what our state invests in K-12 education. Gov. Judy Martz has refused to endorse any of her advisory council's recommendations that might cost money. If the governor supports education, she's going to have to support funding measures that enable our schools to keep up with the demands of providing quality education.
We call on the legislative committee members to be leaders in fixing our long-ailing system.
We call on education advocates from school districts large and small to work together. We must hold our elected state officials accountable for education funding. United, we can succeed for all our children.
Mighty master of Augusta
The 2002 Masters Golf Tournament competition was a one-man show. On the final day of the tournament, Tiger Woods left the rest of the field behind in the mud and rain. Woods never lost his concentration, never let up in his drive to win.
Woods has been golf's boy wonder, a trail blazer and the first black golfer to win at Augusta National. At age 26, Woods is beyond being a prodigy, beyond being the first, having just captured his third Masters win. Tiger is golf's unchallenged superstar. His talent has energized the game. His relentless drive for success is an inspiration to all young people who aspire to their own American dreams.