Montana Education, Our Constitution, and the GOP Fringe: A Dangerous Mixture


I think that if someone goes around parading that he envisions his job as some sort of modern Madisonian defender of the Constitution, he should be capable of reading the documents that govern our nation and state. Clearly, Representatives Knox and Stahle haven’t read the Montana Constitution lately, or are choosing to ignore what it demands: quality education for all of our children.

Representative Knox sent the following in an e-mail today:

Rep. Wayne Stahle has an education bill I look forward to considering. The gist of it is it defines what a ‘basic education’ is as it is required in the Montana Constitution. It would reduce the mils taxed from 95 to five (estimated) but based on the market value. Then school districts would be capable of voting on additional mills to provide anything more than the basic education. An interesting model and my explanation is a quick rundown of the plan.

Let’s dismiss the obvious first. Knox is distorting what the Constitution says. Because both Montana Republicans and Democrats knew in 1972 that an excellent education is the best way to ensure equality of opportunity and hope for every child, they wrote:

The legislature shall provide a basic system of free quality public elementary and secondary schools.

Not barebones, not just “basic,” but quality education. While Representative Knox seems to believe that we can educate every child in Montana for $500/year, a quality education requires services ranging from full-day aides for students with disabilities to advanced opportunities to study the highest levels of science and math. It provides extra-curricular opportunities, heat, sound buildings, and buses. And yes, it requires paying quality professionals an adequate wage for what is occasionally quite thankless work.

And Montana teachers and schools are working. While Representative Knox and his ilk contend that “alternate education produces a better result,” they refuse to acknowledge the great success of Montana schools. Name an educational measure and Montana students excel at it; name the national test and Montana students are near the top of the list. Montana students are achieving.

If you want to understand the radicalization of today’s Montana Republican Party, you don’t need to look much farther than this hostility to public education. In 1972, both Republicans and Democrats believed that education was fundamental for an active, productive, informed citizenry, because they believed in the promise of our young people and knew that schools were the center of our communities. As the preamble notes,

We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.

Let’s not let the reactionary fringe of one party deny the gifts of this great state to future generations.

Photo by Patti McNeal.
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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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