MQEC sees the following items as top legislative issues for the upcoming session:
Full implementation of SB 175
SB 175 was a major achievement for public education in the 2013 session. The fiscal changes were phased in over a two-year period, with the 2014-2015 fiscal year seeing the remaining increases to school funding with higher amounts for the Basic Entitlement and Data for Achievement payments as well as inflationary increases applied to all elements of the funding formula . MQEC will closely follow allocation of these funds to ensure compliance with current legislation.
Support for Governor Bullock's Early Edge Program
Studies continue to demonstrate that early childhood education and kindergarten readiness are linchpins in addressing the achievement gap. Children between the ages of three and entry into kindergarten who participate in early childhood programs can realize increased academic achievement as well as experience fewer arrests, fewer teenaged pregnancies, and higher employment in later life. The Governor plans to make early childhood education a signature proposal in the upcoming session. Together, we can ensure that early childhood education is implemented in a manner that honors local control and community ownership, and provides funding levels adequate to allow school districts to provide quality education for these students.
Defeat of Privatization Efforts
MQEC will prioritize defeating efforts to fund charter schools, tax credits, and vouchers with public funds at the expense of funds that would otherwise be committed to our public schools. Quality education demands community involvement, and locally elected school boards are the best system available to ensure that school systems are accountable to district patrons.
Maintain Accreditation Standards and Local District Control
MQEC will continue working to successfully defeat assaults against the Board of Public Education’s accreditation standards and local district policy. Curriculum has never been the purview of the Montana Legislature, but that has not stopped individual legislators from trying to pass proposals eroding both the authority of the Board of Public Education and elected school boards in recent sessions. Proposals for complicated and unworkable curriculum opt-outs, mandated presence of guns in schools, and attacks on the Board of Public Education’s standards will all likely be on the agenda as they were in the 2013 Legislative Session.
Increases in and Equitable Distribution of Funds for Facilities Maintenance, Construction, and Bond Interest
Montana's public school districts continue to struggle with aging facilities and lack of funds to expand or improve classrooms and educational space. MQEC will pursue increased funding for new construction and for maintenance and repair of existing facilities. The 2008 K-12 Public Schools Facility Condition Assessment concluded that outstanding maintenance projects in the areas of safety, damage/wear-out, codes and standards, environmental, energy, and aesthetics totaled over $349 MM. Through the 2013 biennium the State has awarded approximately $36 MM, or 10% of the identified funding, to public school districts for repair and maintenance projects. The current distribution method for this funding, the Quality Schools Grant program, is a 'lottery' system that benefits a small number of districts and leaves the majority of schools without any relief. MQEC advocates for a more equitable distribution of these limited dollars so that all schools have the opportunity to address maintenance and repair issues.
Review of the Public Education Funding Formula, MCA 20-9-309, in 2015-2016
The Legislature is tasked with a review of MCA 20-9-309 every ten years. This review will be conducted during the 2016 Interim Session. Since 20-9-309 defines the constitutionally-enforceable basic system of free quality schools, there is much at stake as the review takes place. MQEC will closely monitor the proceedings and strongly advocate for defending and strengthening the state’s commitment for quality public education as envisioned by the constitutional framers when they drafted Article X of the Montana Constitution.