As Montana students head back into the classroom for another year of school, our education system is facing multiple challenges. There’s an ongoing teacher shortage in many districts, particularly the more rural parts of the state. Test scores and achievement metrics are still behind where they need to be following years of academic disruption caused by Covid lockdowns. There’s been an under-emphasis on career readiness in the K-12 to college pipeline for decades, and employers are struggling to find workers with necessary skills. Parents are rightly demanding more of a say in their children’s education.
State legislators have recognized that, for Montana and its upcoming generations to have a bright future in a rapidly-changing world, our education system needs to adapt and evolve. The Legislature passed a slew of reforms aimed at better preparing students for work, providing more educational options for families, and shoring up the public school system.
Four bills passed into law in the 2023 legislative session collectively work to better prepare students for their future careers. Senate Bill 444 and House Bills 245, 408, and 257 encourage work-based learning in addition to traditional classroom instruction, increase the number and types of trades eligible for the Trades Education and Training Tax Credit, improve Montana’s scholarship program for innovative education programs, and expand the availability and reduce the cost of advanced opportunity programs.
Five additional new laws are aimed at increasing the options available for parents to ensure their children get an education that works for them. House Bills 562 and 549 authorize two different types of public charter schools. House Bills 203 and 214 allow parents to more easily send their children to a school outside of their district and receive remote instruction provided by another school district, respectively. House Bill 393 provides funding for special needs education savings accounts, opening the door to more possibilities for special needs students.
In addition to funding schools and providing inflationary increases to help districts make ends meet, the 2023 Legislature also passed four significant bills to help schools meet their staffing and budget needs. House Bill 588 improves on the previous legislative session’s work to increase starting teacher pay. House Bill 332 creates a statewide health insurance trust for local schools to combat the high cost of providing health insurance, freeing up money in local budgets for other priorities. House Bill 587 adjusts the way state government helps pay for schools in order to provide tens of millions of dollars in local property tax relief, lowering the burden on Montana property taxpayers who fund our public schools. Senate Bill 373 reduces unnecessary red tape in the teacher credentialing process, making it easier for schools to fill open positions with highly qualified educators.
Republicans passed these bills to improve Montana’s education system and help students find success both in the classroom and in their future careers.
Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, is the President of the Montana Senate. Sen. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan, chairs the Senate Education Committee.
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