Tuesday, April 23, 2024
56.0°F

Schoolyard bullies in the Legislature

by Elsie Arntzen
| March 24, 2024 12:00 AM

During the Education Interim Budget Committee meeting on March 12-13, the chair and some members of the committee tarnished the reputation of the entire Legislature with their lack of decorum. These individuals turned simple legislative hearings into kangaroo courts with predetermined outcomes that had very little to do with the actual discussion at hand. 

These schoolyard bullies are attacking me because I’m a constitutional conservative who has stood for good governance, protected girls’ sports, and fought against the “woke” agenda currently infiltrating our schools.  The false accusation that the Office of Public Instruction is not adequately implementing certain pieces of legislation is bizarre. In reality, these legislators are asking the OPI to ignore and rewrite the law for their convenience.

These legislators, fueled by the overreaching bureaucracy of school associations, asked the OPI to disregard the laws that they sponsored and voted for. All elected officials swear an oath to fulfill and uphold Montana’s Constitution. Only the Legislature has law-writing authority. 

As a former legislator, I understand the level of importance of preserving and protecting this power for the Legislature alone. The OPI, along with any state or federal agency, is tasked with implementing the law. Constitutionally, the OPI cannot and will not rewrite the law. Neither well-meaning convenience nor a twisted political agenda justifies setting bad precedents and breaking the separation of powers. 

I would caution legislators not to take the easy way out by relinquishing their law-writing power to agencies. In other states, and nationally, agencies often overstep the limits of written law to reach a political end. Montanans do not want an administrative state, and neither do I. 

Let’s be honest, when some of the detractors are individually drafting 70-plus pieces of legislation in a 90-day session, opportunities for clear and concise language will be missed. There is a process to resolve issues in poorly written legislation. The next session could bring clarification to ensure that the ultimate goals are reached. I welcome this if it is done through the proper process. What is not welcome is elected officials trampling our constitution with a temper tantrum.

At the OPI, we are prioritizing our students, parents, and communities. The OPI led the nation in improving our state assessment system to better reflect the teaching and learning needs of our students. We implemented the teacher residency program and increased flexibility in teacher licensing rules to bring more qualified teachers into the classroom. The OPI also updated the accreditation process to engage parents, families, and communities. This is just a small portion of what the OPI employees do every day.

Montana children, parents and communities want the Legislature to focus on delivering results. Some in the Legislature are acting more childish than the children we are supposed to be serving. I remember when we used to resolve legislative issues with real solutions, not name-calling and politically motivated stunts. Montanans deserve better.

Elsie Arntzen is Montana’s superintendent of public education.