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Bruce Grubbs

Rep. Bruce Grubbs, R-Bozeman. 

State legislators pulled the plug on a School District 2-backed bill that would have funded a technology-based distance learning program Monday.

The House Education committee voted against advancing the bill all but unanimously — sponsor Rep. Bruce Grubbs, a Bozeman Republican, was the only yes. The move tables the bill, likely killing it.

“For me, it’s a matter of priorities,” said Rep. Sue Vinton, a Lockwood Republican who previously chaired Lockwood’s school board. “I do believe that there are other opportunities that are available to students.”

The bill would create a payment of up to $250 per student to schools with students participating in the courses. The payment would be built into the BASE aid formula, meaning that it would be included in school funding from year to year.

Under a synchronous learning program, a teacher in one classroom would teach to students in that room, but would also be recorded by a camera and streamed live to students in other buildings.

Grubbs framed it as an opportunity for rural students to gain access to courses their schools might not offer.

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SD2 Superintendent Greg Upham testified in support of the bill at a January hearing, highlighting a pilot classroom between Ben Steele and Will James middle schools.

SD2 school board chairwoman Greta Besch Moen has championed synchronous learning at board and committee meetings, advocating for the model as a way to offer courses to rural districts beyond SD2 and to offer courses to different schools within the district. The board named the bill as one of a few that it specifically would push. 

However, the Montana Rural Education Association and the state teachers union opposed the bill, citing other education priorities and concerns about the funding structure. 

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.