$934.56. That’s how much (along with a $10,000 loan to herself) Superintendent of Public Instruction and private schools advocate Elsie Arntzen reported in her first campaign finance report for the 2020 election.
It’s not surprising. Arntzen’s tenure at OPI has been predictably disastrous, with the former Billings legislator spending more of her time in office fighting a quixotic battle against the basic elements of the English language than she’s spent fighting the achievement gap that plagues students in poverty across the state. Rather than defending the state’s public schools, she’s repeatedly used her position to advocate for private schools siphoning funds away from our public schools. And let’s not forget her dishonest attacks on her predecessor that opened her tenure in office.
Still, $900? I am as frustrated as anyone not named Greg Gianforte with the fixation on connecting money with electoral viability, but that’s an embarrassing total in an era when candidates want to announce the candidacies with evidence that they have support for their bids.
The paltry total Arntzen is reporting suggests a) that she didn’t realize there was going to be an election next year (entirely plausible), b)that her 2016 win made her overly confident and she will run a low-energy campaign or c) she is confident that the forces of privatization will flood her campaign coffers no matter how bad she is at the job.
It’s that last possible reason that should make us concerned, because the Greg Gianfortes of the world, who are committed to breaking public education and forcing the public to fund discriminatory schools will almost certainly come out to back Arntzen. They see her ineffectiveness and unwillingness to advocate for Montana public schools as a feature, not a failure and will throw money her way no matter how little they believe in her abilities.
And that’s good reason to throw some money to Melissa Romano, who should have defeated Arntzen in 2016, and who will defeat her in 2020. Given the growing attacks on public education coming through the Legislature, courts, and even OPI itself, the future of Montana’s public schools may depend on it.