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Grading Montana

If the Republican party – the controlling party in the state – truly cared about protecting children then funding education should be a top priority

By Maggie Doherty

In an election year political campaign signs are impossible to avoid and there’s one that’s piqued my attention. It’s a large red banner with white letters and a message: “Protect our children. Vote Republican.” Although this message may appear to be simple, it’s anything but. Beneath the surface of its bold typeface is argument that if you don’t vote Republican then you don’t want to protect children. I know plenty of people who align with different political parties, including both Democrats and Libertarians, and children are typically the topic of much concern. Republicans aren’t the only party that cares about families, children, and their wellbeing. And truthfully, more often than not, in the state Legislature and on the national scale, Republicans enact a slew of bills that actually don’t protect children, or support them and their basic needs like education, housing, and food. 

It’s easy to become caught up in catch phrases and incendiary slogans. Who would argue against protecting children? In what seems like an endless election season, we’re all exhausted. Campaigns don’t do well with nuance and it’s so much easier to pit people against each other, but this isn’t how life works. Nuance is what makes up life, so if you’re a majority political party that wants to protect children you better create legislation that does so. 

Let’s start with public education. The state of Montana with all of its bragging rights for being many things is woefully behind in supporting public education. According to a 2021 National Education Association report, Montana ranks last in the nation for average starting teacher salary at $32,495. Our children need to attend school for several reasons, and parents rely on public schools to provide their kids with a well-rounded education, social connections, and opportunities for activities and extra-curriculars that inspire them. When teachers aren’t paid well, it creates problems, including impacting education outcomes and creating teacher shortages. Families suffer from this disparity, and without a quality education, children suffer most of all. If the Republican party – the controlling party in the state – truly care about protecting children then funding education should be a top priority. The outcomes for a quality, accessible public school education are limitless, including creating economic success for communities and training students to enter either the workforce or continue to pursue higher education. Since Gov. Greg Gianforte repeatedly brags that Montana is open for business, he should know that investing in public education is the smartest route to help those businesses. 

The hype about these so-called culture wars is distracting from the matters on hand. Many children can’t afford school lunch and lunch debt should not be an aspect of a child’s life in Montana. Healthy, well-fed kids make great learners and all Montana kids deserve a shot at great education. Show me a party that enacts measures to protect kids instead of cutting services and that’ll garner my support.  

Maggie Doherty is a writer and book reviewer who lives in Kalispell with her family. 

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