COLUMBIA FALLS – Gov. Steve Bullock was in town for the first day of the school year to promote job and college preparation programs that he says are critical to the state’s future.
A group of Columbia Falls High School students took the governor to meet with kids who are already taking college courses and others who are getting industrial arts experience that could be used to get a job right after graduation.
The Sept. 3 visit came during a weeklong back-to-school tour taking the governor to Billings, Great Falls, Bozeman, Missoula and the Rocky Boy Reservation. Lt. Gov. Angela McLean was also on the road, visiting schools in Helena and Plains.
“We need to make education relevant to the students and make sure that they can apply what they learn now to their future,” Bullock said. “We need to make sure that every student here gets the skills they need.”
Bullock said to do that, schools need to offer more to their students and that is exactly what is happening in Columbia Falls. Through a partnership with Flathead Valley Community College, students in Flathead and Lincoln counties can receive up to six college credits for free while still in high school. They can also take additional credits at a reduced rate.
According to Bullock, the number of Montana students taking college courses while still in high school has doubled in the last two-and-a-half years. He also said that in 2014, Montana families saved $3 million on tuition by having their children take college classes early. Bullock also toured the high school’s industrial arts classes and met with students who are becoming certified welders. The certification means the students will be able to get higher paying jobs right after graduation. Principal Scott Gaiser said it was a privilege to have the governor stop by on the first day of school.
“We’re really proud of the programs we’re offering and we’re happy to share them with the community and the governor,” he said.
The governor said the state has worked hard to connect schools and businesses to find out what type of workforce needs there will be in the future. Bullock said it is especially important considering that more than 130,000 Montanans will retire in the next decade and yet there are only 123,000 16 to 24 year olds that could enter the work force in the coming years. Bullock said it is critical that students are ready to enter the work force and help move the state’s economy forward.
“We can’t wait until after graduation to start training these kids,” Bullock said.
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