Friends Don’t Let Friends Pass Bad Preschool Bills, Governor Bullock

Once in a while, friends need to deliver uncomfortable truths to one another. I imagine that’s what Governor Bullock and his staff imagined they were doing when they issued a statement yesterday condemning “two Democrats” for voting against the dangerous and ill-conceived HB 755, which would fund private pre-K programs with public dollars in Montana. I’m sure that when his statement claimed that “special interests no longer represent[ed] the best interests of our youngest Montanans” or when he claimed to be “disgusted” by their actions, he imagined it was just some straight talk in favor of a bill he supported.

Well, time for some straight talk from a friend here: that’s bull.

The “special interests” on the Left opposing this bill are the very teachers who have tirelessly donated their time and money, their blood and sweat, to get a pro-public education governor and Attorney General elected. The “special interests” on the Left opposing this bill know that there is a powerful, well-funded movement in place in Montana that wants to break public sector unions, privatize education, and spend public resources on dubious preschool programs that could be approved someone appointed by a Governor Gianforte or Fox. The “special interests” on the Left opposing this bill work with kids every day, and they know that we need a vibrant system of public preschools led by trained professionals who understand child development, education theory and practice, not a system that has such weak regulation in place that it could easily permit funding of programs that are not in the best interest of children.

And the two Democrats on the committee—Connie Keogh and Moffie Funk—should be commended for standing up for public education. Both educators, they understand the danger inherent in approving this bill that was so problematic that even proponents acknowledged serious flaws in the testimony on the bill. To suggest that these dedicated public servants who have actually served in a classroom were not looking for the best interests of children is beneath the governor and his staff, who should apologize to the champions of public education who have walked the walk.

Instead of insulting people who have lived lives in classrooms teaching children and fighting for sensible policy, wouldn’t the governor’s staff have spent its time better defending and improving their own bill? Instead of demonizing these representatives, perhaps the governor’s staff could have even invested more energy into making this Republican bill one that could work for Montana kids and their families.

Such a bill would almost certainly not follow the example of Alabama, as HB 755 does. While the state has expanded access and spending on preschool, its program allows spending on religious instruction and “faith centers” as part of a comprehensive system of school choice that diverts public money from public schools from Pre-K through high school.

A more cynical person might wonder if the Governor’s overheated rhetoric attacking some of his strongest supporters isn’t awfully convenient posturing in the service of personal political ambitions. It’s an excellent bullet point on a political resume to have achieved funding for preschool, especially given that the Iowa press isn’t too likely to look into the details of the plan, and there’s nothing the national press loves more than a story about a Democratic politician “standing up against the unions.”

A more cynical person might write just that, but that’s not how friends treat one another.

Montana desperately needs preschool, and given the massive handouts the Legislature seems prepared to give Northwestern Energy, we have the money for it. HB 755, though, is not the bill to achieve it, and bombastic, insulting rhetoric is no way to build support for a better bill. I, for one, certainly hope that Governor Bullock’s promise to keep fighting for Pre-K this session comes with the concomitant effort necessary to craft a bill that actually best serves Montana’s kids.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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  • I think people deeply misunderstand what the situation in early childhood education actually looks like. But the reality is that 3 and 4 year olds are currently IN preK programs that are woefully underfunded and inadequately supported. And most MT families cannot access high quality preK because it doesn’t exist in their communities or because they cannot afford it if it does.
    Montana’s public schools cannot solve the preK quality and equity of access questions alone. Almost every state that has tackled the need for good and unversally available PeK has done so with a mixed delivery model– because that is what works and it’s where kids already are. By insisting that this bill (and anything that works in partnership with private preK providers) is a threat to public education, the committee did a disservice to the MT kids who can’t wait another three years for improvement. This is a shame.

      • Actually, I’ve been a preschool teacher, center director, and early childhood teacher trainer for quite a while. It’s true that I’m not a K-12 teacher. I wish K-12 teachers saw early childhood educators as their peers, colleagues, and partners– not their competition.

    • We can do better than HB 755! Public schools are the backbone of this state and the country. Yes, we need reform but not sell out to private interests!

      • “Private interests” in this case are preschool and child care programs, where the teachers would LOVE to be paid a living wage and be able to provide an important service to families who can’t afford preK right now.
        In general, preK teachers and child care centers are not trying to open schools that compete with public schools.

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