Montanans are committed to public education

Thursday, September 6, 2018
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Inviting guest speakers into a high school classroom is always a dicey proposition. When you find a good one, you know it. Senator Jon Tester was the best.

He never said no. He’d let kids videotape interviews with him, and didn’t ask to see the videos or preview the questions. He was open that way.

He knew how to engage with high school students. Believe me, that is not an easy skill to master. I still remember him opening a video Q&A conference by asking which of the students played the trumpet. The trumpet player got to ask the first question – of a United States Senator! That kid felt honored.

You see Senator Tester everywhere. A group of friends saw Jon Tester at the Billings Clinic Classic, and ran over to see if he would let them get a picture because “we’re all in the class of ’74.” Senator Tester laughed, and said, sure. He wasn’t worried about protecting his image.

Senator Tester is a neighborly guy, and that value is reflected in his policy stands as well as in his personal style. In contrast, Senator Tester’s opponent has attached himself to someone who considers being unpleasant an asset. President Trump picks fights with everybody, even the recently deceased war hero John McCain.

Matt Rosendale fits nicely into this pugnacious mode. The central promise of his campaign is that he will fight. But fight what, and for whom? Matt Rosendale has a long history of actively fighting the values that make Montana what it is.

Take the policy area that means the most to me because I spent 30 years in Montana classrooms: Montanans’ commitment to public education.

Montanans don’t just value public education. They prize it. We enshrined it in our constitution. We said it straight out: we believe in “a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person,” and we require that equality of educational opportunity be guaranteed every Montanan through free, high-quality public education.

Matt Rosendale’s record teems with examples that he dismisses this core Montana value .

Rosendale supported charter school legislation in the 2013 legislature, even as all of these Montana organizations told him it was wrong for Montana: the Montana School Boards Association, the School Administrators of Montana, Montana Rural Education Association, Montana Quality Education Coalition, the Association of School Business Officers and the Montana teachers union.

All of them.

The education community was only reflecting the support Montanans themselves express for their public schools. Polls continually show Montanans approve of their public schools at a much higher rate than is average in the nation. So why was Matt Rosendale fighting Montanans?

During his career as a Montana legislator, Rosendale also favored vouchers – tax credits to families who send their children to private schools, allowing those parents to divert their tuition costs to their own schools.

Charter schools and voucher systems deplete the funds that provide the free quality public education Montanans embrace. They introduce an elitist principle that is not the Montana way. Never has been .

Rosendale’s anti-public-education record doesn’t stop there. He opposed a bipartisan bill to fund school infrastructure in many Montana communities. He opposed a universal pre-K program for Montana’s kids, when Montana was one of only a handful of states not to offer this proven educational advantage. Rosendale even criticized a bill to help fund the Healthy Montana Kids program.

Matt Rosendale has been willing to cut programs that give our high school graduates a chance at higher education. He voted against a bill to expand access to community and tribal colleges. Why, Rosendale even voted against scholarships for Montana Purple Heart recipients.

Contrast Rosendale’s voting record with Jon Tester’s. Tester led the Montana Senate in creating critical infrastructure for our two-year colleges and consistently supports federal funding for scholarships and research in Montana.

Come on! What do Montanans value more than the futures of our kids? Those futures depend on our willingness to support and adequately fund the free, equal, high-quality educational opportunities we wrote into our constitution.

Matt Rosendale’s record shows he does not share this fundamental Montana value. Far from it. His priority has always been to divert public funds to schools with doors that are not open to all, managed by people with no public accountability.

I don’t think you have to be born in Montana to embrace Montana values. But I do think you should embrace Montana values if you hope to represent Montanans in Congress.

Matt Rosendale’s record shows he is not a fighter for Montana. Instead, he is fighting Montanans, and working to kill the opportunities Montanans believe belong to every child.

The Laurel Outlook


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