It’s well past the time for Montana to come up with a system to fund pre-K school for our students to make sure they are academically, socially, and emotionally ready for school, but a Republican proposal that the Governor’s Office has been lobbying for at the Capitol isn’t the system we need to provide it.
The proposal, LC 0291, looks very similar to what Miles City Republican legislator Eric Moore said he would introduce in January: a block-grant system that would permit public funding of private preschools across the states:
“So my proposal is going to be based on what they do in Alabama. It’s going to be a separate agency with a cabinet-level position that reports to the governor. And it’s going to a block grant, school choice, money-follow-the-student model, where K-12 districts, existing Head Start programs and private providers will be eligible.”
That description has so many worrisome elements that “based on what they do in Alabama” isn’t even the most troubling. By allowing public dollars to flow to private programs that compete with those developed by accredited teachers and public schools, the bill will kickstart the Republican plan to transform the entire public education system into one that has to compete for dollars with private providers.
This is no idle threat. Every recent Republican candidate for governor, more interested in undermining public sector unions than in ensuring a quality education for Montana’s kids, has called for privatization of schools. Even the current Superintendent of Public Instruction has used her time to advocate for public dollars spent on private education.
While a Department of Early Childhood under Governor Bullock would certainly maintain high standards that would lead to most of the programs existing in our public school districts and Head Start programs, imagine what someone appointed by Greg Gianforte, who oversaw a private school that codified vicious discrimination, could do if appointed to head the new department. Imagine what someone appointed by Tim Fox, who has used his office to attack transgender students and defend public dollars flowing to religious schools, could do.
The proposed legislation simply lacks the protections necessary to prevent a future administration from authorizing incredibly problematic—and even damaging—programs.
The Montana Legislature has the opportunity to move the state forward and end the dubious distinction of being one of four states that does not provide a system of pre-K education for its students, but this Republican proposal is not the way to achieve access to pre-K education for our kids and I hope the Governor’s Office withdraws its support and lobbying for the bill.
A short-term political win can’t be worth the potential long-term costs to Montana students and schools.