Elsie Artzen, Greg Gianforte, and the Republicans Will Defund Montana’s Public Schools

Make no mistake about it: those who call for “school choice” plan to, as soon as the Supreme Court and Legislature empower them to do so, siphon tax dollars from Montana’s excellent public schools and transfer them to private schools.

And you don’t have to take my word for it: private school advocates are telling us they plan to take those resources.

In a story about how Great Falls schools are responding to the Espinoza case we covered earlier in the week, reporter Skylar Rispens got a quote from Superintendent of Montana Catholic Schools Dr. Tim Uhl.

The gist? Private schools are going to come for public dollars:

“It is getting more expensive every year to run our schools,” wrote Uhl in an email. “If our Catholic schools could access state funding in areas such as transportation and textbooks and raise money for scholarships, we’d be on better footing.”

Transportation and textbooks are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. If the Supreme Court rules, as Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte want it to, that state constitutions cannot prohibit spending public dollars on religious instruction, we’re one Republican governor away from local communities having less money to pay teachers, buy supplies, and transport kids.

And it doesn’t help that Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen still doesn’t understand that her job is to look out for Montana’s public schools. Arntzen, who previously refused to testify against a bill that would have ended compulsory education in Montana and who attended an ALEC-sponsored conference touting shifting funds from public to private schools, had this to say on Twitter today:

While the euphemism today might be “school choice,” the goal has always been the same: to undermine public education so that corporate interests can profit and religious schools can proselytize on the public’s dime.

Montana should absolutely continue its effective blend of public, private, and home schooling, but don’t be fooled about what will happen if Montana bucks fifty years of constitutional protections for our public schools: our students, our teachers, our schools, and our communities will all suffer and the egalitarian promise of our public school system will be shattered.

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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  • What is your motive here Pogie?

    Worried about your paycheck?

    Do you Just like the practice of discrimination against rural Christian people? The last time I checked, they pay taxes too.

    My last child graduates from college in a couple of months so I don’t really have a stake in this opinion, however it goes.

    • It doesn’t get much more selfish or short-sighted than this: “My last child graduates from college in a couple of months so I don’t really have a stake in this opinion, however it goes.”

      So, the kids who attend public schools in Montana, and that’s the majority of kids, should have underfunded schools so a select few who go to parochial schools can get access to public funds?

      Then there’s your future caregivers, professional class, public servants, etc., E. Do you not want them to have the best public education possible?

      • Pete, I just read through the arguments, and I’m not sure where I would come down on it if I were a justice.

        But anybody who says these little $150 scholarship/tax breaks will result in closed Public Schools is an alarmist. Never happen.

        And if parents want to get a better education for their kids, and they can afford the tuition, I think it’s great. The last study I read said that kids from Private Schools in Montana score an average of 3 points better on the ACT, and that in Jr, High the Private Schools are blowing away public schools by double digits in math scores.

        I don’t know how the opinion will come down, but it’ll be interesting to watch.

        • You should read more into the actual arguments.

          While the Montana law in question is $150 scholarships, that’s just a ploy to strike down state constitutional bans on funding religious schools. If the Court rules as many fear it might, we won’t be talking about $150 scholarships in the next legislative session.

    • No, I’m doing fine, thanks.

      I have this crazy notion that we should not spend state dollars on religion. And another that the profit motive has been disastrous for states that have adopted privatization schemes.

      • I agree with you here, Don. Having come from working as an educator in Ohio for 28 years I would argue that Montanans should be very wary of “for-profit, private school” proponents and follow the money. Ib believe it would also be important for private schools to maintain the same standards for operating as public schools with regard to admissions and retention of students, accepting students with disabilities and lower socio-economic students, same testing standards and accountability, etc.

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