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Legislature expands freedom in public education

by Elsie Arntzen
| June 1, 2023 12:00 AM

As our more than 9,000 students prepare to receive that honorable Montana diploma from our 173 high schools, I reflect on this past year and look forward to the next. Future graduating classes will have an increase in innovative educational opportunities.

I am grateful that the 68th Legislature focused on parents, students, families and expanding freedom and transparency in education. I also appreciate the Board of Public Education for accepting the new student-centered school accreditation process to support teachers, school administrators, and trustees.

As State Superintendent I championed four legislative requests that put our Montana students first:

  1. Prioritizing funding our schools through BASE Aid because a promise is a promise.

  2. Supporting the mental health needs of students.

  3. Revising teacher license fees. My promise to our Montana teachers is that I will not increase teacher licensing fees.

  4. Funding to update audiology equipment in Montana schools.

All four asks were granted.

The focus of delivering a flexible and innovative education system was realized through:

• The creation of public charter schools and community choice schools

• Funding the teacher residency program to aid in teacher recruitment through student teaching

• The development of career coaches to make our students Montana ready

• A student focus on transformational and personalized learning

All these closely align with my Montana Alternative Student Testing (MAST) Pilot program that accurately measures the success of teaching and learning while removing a federally mandated one-size-fits-all test.

One of my top priorities for education is getting back to the basics of math and reading. I appreciate that the Legislature established an Early Literacy Targeted Intervention program for kindergarten through third grade. This program funds the following:

• a classroom-based early reading program

• a home-based reading program, or

• an early reading jumpstart or summer immersion program

Montana school accreditation rules were decades old and in need of revision. During the May 11-12 Board of Public Education meeting the new accreditation process was unanimously adopted. This new system replaces the antiquated check the box system with a new student-centric approach. Schools will be required to focus on family and community engagement and measure student academic outcomes.

This system emphasizes that local control is local accountability and ensures all students receive a quality education as stated in our Montana Constitution.

I am thankful that more parent and family voices were sincerely heard during this legislative session.

Parents are the first teachers. Blessings to the families of our graduating class of 2023. Our future Montana graduating classes will be celebrated by the many gifts of this Legislature.

Elsie Arntzen is Montana state superintendent.