The State of Education of Montana | New

Leaders from Montana’s elementary and tertiary education systems met on the University of Montana campus on Friday to discuss strategic goals and ongoing challenges to improve the quality of education for students statewide .

Addressing an in-person meeting of the State Board of Education, Governor Greg Gianforte spoke on the stages he witnessed this year in classrooms from Frenchtown to Glendive. He hailed the passage of a new law in the 2021 legislature that urges schools to increase the salaries of beginning teachers and efforts to increase student financial assistance and extend flexibilities in the licensing of teachers. qualified in Montana. However, Gianfore said the state also faces “heavy warrants” from Washington, DC, which “threatened our schools and our students.”

“I will continue to work with the superintendent [Elsie] Arntzen and our congressional delegation to quash the CDC’s illegal mask mandate on school buses, ”Gianforte said. “I will also continue to work with the Attorney General. [Austin] Knudsen to prevent vaccination warrants, which are illegal in Montana. While I continue to encourage Montanais to visit their health care provider for vaccination, they should do so voluntarily, and not under a decree that has not been passed through the legislative process. “

Gianforte applauded the Montana School Boards Association for withdrawing its membership from the National School Boards Association following an episode relating to the parental rights debate and the federal response to threats from members of the public against teachers and officials schools nationwide. He encouraged other education associations to assess their membership in national organizations to ensure these relationships are in Montana’s best interest.

The State Board of Education is made up of Gianforte, Arntzen, Higher Education Commissioner Clayton Christian, the Montana Board of Regents, and the Montana Board of Public Education. Gianforte listed his top priorities for the Montana education system, including:

  • Continue to tackle the underlying costs of education to help students enter the workforce faster and with less debt;
  • Expand public-private partnerships, such as UM’s Accelerate Montana, to “better meet the needs of Montana students and employers”; and
  • Increase educational opportunities for traditional and non-traditional students, including in-person and virtual teaching options.

Board chairman Casey Lozar briefed the group on the “incredibly impressive progress” Montana’s higher education system has made this year in recruiting and retaining Native American students. Data collected from the Montana university system this fall showed an 8% increase in native student enrollments statewide from the previous year and an 8% retention rate, Lozar said.

“We’re doing a better job of retaining these students,” Lozar said, adding that at the University of Montana alone, native student enrollments have increased by almost 25%. “This is incredibly exciting news, and while there is still work to be done, the progress is real and it is substantial and strategic.”

Lozar also noted that MUS has also made progress in improving the pathway for students transferring from tribal colleges to state institutions, with Aaniiih Nakoda College in Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy’s Stone Child College joining a system this year. numbering of state standardized courses to effect these transfers. Easier.

Lozar said there had been a significant increase in 2021 in the use of an online application portal called Apply Montana, which allows a potential student to apply at any state campus without paying any application fees. According to Lozar, more than 9,000 students submitted applications through the portal this year, and he estimated the cost savings for Montanais at around $ 500,000. Lozar said MUS plans to expand a new pilot project called Montana 10, which offers targeted support to students in key areas that typically impact retention.

“This year alone, we saw a 16% gain in fall-to-spring retention in the Montana 10 cohort compared to the non-Montana 10 participants,” Lozar said.

Public Education Board Chair Tammy Lacey gave a brief overview of what she and her fellow board members discussed during a busy three-day program. The headnote was a comprehensive strategic plan that the board approved ahead of the meeting of the State Board of Education. This plan, Lacey explained, not only refined the Council for Public Education’s mission statement, but also set out six broad goals the Council will focus on over the coming months. These goals include revising state standards for school accreditation and licensing teachers and administrators through an ongoing regulatory review process, and promoting safe learning environments for students and teachers.

“We know that students and teachers cannot learn and work if they don’t feel safe and supported in their educational institutions,” Lacey said. “We will therefore work with education partners to help school districts navigate a variety of federal and state regulations and funding and other aspects to provide a safe environment.”

Lacey added that as the body overseeing the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind, one of the board’s immediate priorities will be to hire a permanent superintendent for the school. Paul Furthmyre has been in the interim position for over a year. Lacey said the board is currently accepting nominations and will close this nomination window on January 1.

“We will be up and running by May,” Arntzen said. “Between May and August, we recertify and fire around 5,000 teachers. We are going to go paperless, go digital, serve anyone, wherever teachers go.”

Arntzen added that OPI will partner with the Montana Department of Administration to map broadband needs in schools across the state to expand broadband access, also supported by federal relief funding in pandemic case.

During board comments, Regent Robert Nystuen tempered these optimistic assessments of Montana’s education system with instinctive control drawn from the enrollment figures presented to the regents the day before. According to those numbers, Nystuen said, Montana has seen a 10% drop since 2010 in the number of high school graduates who have pursued post-secondary education. Nystuen said that of those who do, 12% go to outside institutions and 28% go to campuses in the Montana university system.

“Half of the students say, ‘I’m not going to go to college,’ and as a former private sector retiree, I find this trend very worrying,” Nystuen said. “We, the people around this table, need to redouble our efforts to market and explain why some level of higher education beyond a K-12 degree is so important. I think we are missing the boat. “

Mary Heller of the Board of Public Education responded to Nystuen’s concern by pointing out that Montana students may take educational opportunities outside of the traditional higher education model. She cited the example of a 2020 graduate of Helena’s Capital High School who had participated in the school’s automotive program. The Monday following his graduation ceremony, Heller said, the student started a high-paying job at a car dealership. He stepped straight into a viable career, she continued, a career that includes opportunities for continuing education and certification.

“Although I think two-year colleges or community colleges, tribal colleges, four-year universities are important in some areas, I don’t want to forget that there are other forms of education,” he said. Heller. “And I think we have to take them seriously. I think we have to extol them.”

Heller’s statements directly addressed Gianforte’s previous point about his desire to better reflect the needs of Montana employers in the state’s education system. Gianforte took the opportunity to express his support for the workplace experience as an educational tool. The legislature took a big step in that direction this spring, Gianforte said, passing a bill that expanded the ability of local school officials to allow students to pursue on-the-job learning instead of certain core curriculum requirements.

“This is another tool that we are putting in the box,” Gianforte said. “It won’t be the right thing for every community, but it will be looked into.”

Friday’s meeting was largely informative, giving various state boards and agencies an opportunity to discuss their respective plans and common goals. The Board of Public Education and the Board of Regents will meet again separately in January.


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