Elsie Arntzen’s Evasive Answers Hide a Reactionary Agenda and Record

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There’s been very little coverage of any of the Tier B races this cycle, something that generally helps the Republican candidates who hide their dangerous agenda behind the party affiliation after their names. In the race to succeed Denise Juneau as Superintendent of Public Instruction, we’ve learned almost nothing about Republican candidate Elsie Arntzen, who, by refusing the answer the most basic questions, seems to be trying to hide her radical agenda for Montana’s schools.

Today’s story in the Billings Gazette did little to clear up her point of view on the issues, as Arntzen refused to offer anything substantive.

Take her answer on the question of the Common Core State Standards:

Arntzen, who spent 23 years teaching and is a state senator representing Billings, has expressed skepticism about Common Core and the assessment developed based on the standards, Smarter Balanced tests. But she’s stopped short of saying she would push for new standards.

She did say she’s glad the standards have become a hot topic.

“It brought the discussion of education into coffee,” for the general public, she said.

That’s not an answer. For a teacher, must less one running to head OPI, to act like she hasn’t formed a definitive opinion on Common Core is absurd—and it should disqualify Arntzen from the office she’s seeking. Montana adopted the Common Core Standards in 2011, meaning Arntzen has had five teaching years and two legislative sessions to consider them. What she didn’t say (and the story didn’t report) is that in 2012, Arntzen said that she supported the implementation of the Common Core, but that she voted to repeal them in the 2015 session.

Maybe I have unreasonably high standards for a news story, but that seems like something worth reporting.

Arntzen also claimed that she wouldn’t take money from the public schools, a position directly contradicted by her votes in the 2015 session, including:

  • a vote to allow family to receive vouchers to attend private and religious schools.
  • a vote to give income tax credits for private school scholarships.
  • A vote to establish charter schools.

All of those voters would have meant transferring money from the public school system to an unaccountable, private system. The Gazette story only mentioned one of those votes.

Finally, Arntzen took this bold stand:

When asked about her position on several legislative issues, she declined to offer a stance, saying those issues are for the legislature to decide.

One of the critical jobs for the Superintendent of Public Instruction is lobbying the Legislature and leading legislative priorities. Arntzen’s record makes it clear why she won’t discuss her feelings about school privatization and charters: she will continue to push for them at the expense of Montana’s excellent public schools.

The Gazette story billed itself as “6 things to watch” in the race for OPI Superintendent, but we really only learned one thing about Senator Arntzen: she is trying to hide her reactionary record of supporting privatization and undermining effective standards by refusing to state her real positions on the critical issues in the race. That absolutely disqualifies her from consideration for the office she seeks, and I hope the press does more to explore just what she’d do if she headed Montana’s schools.

The race for OPI couldn’t be more clear: support Melissa Romano, an outstanding educator who will protect Montana’s tradition of excellent public schools and continue the great work OPI has done to modernize the standards that guide our instruction.

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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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Andrew

I’d agree that it is concerning when candidates refuse to explicitly answer the questions that they are asked, but that is by no means unique to Arntzen, or to her party. At the Zinke-Juneau debates, both candidates took questions and reiterated talking point rather than answer the question as asked.

But I would like to see the responses that Romano has to these very same questions. Not that I have looked hard, but most of the support of her that I have read gives as little detail as is presented above, which hardly contrasts her with Arntzen.

Bill
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Bill

Wow, we may agree on something. Tax credits are essentially alternatives to vouchers, which give public funds to families so their kids can attend private schools. Only eight states—Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Wisconsin offer private school choice programs known as individual tax credits and deductions. If “failing” schools become predominant in Montana then it may be time then to revisit this. It defines a “failing” school as one that lands in the bottom 6 percent of state standardized tests three or more times in six years, or one listed as “low performing” in the state’s… Read more »

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