Fighting for MT Public Schools
June 16, 2023
submitted by Senator Shannon O’Brien SD 46
Every parent remembers the day we took our child to their first day of school. It pulls at your heartstrings. Fortunately, in Montana, we knew our children were in good hands. They were entering schools with teachers who were well qualified and supported, learning lessons from curriculum we had approved, and following the rules set by school boards we had elected.
As a mom, a teacher and a legislator, I believe that the work Montanans have done for public education provides a pathway for every child to be their best, for every parent to be engaged in their child’s learning, and for every community member to know what their schools are teaching and with what results.
In the 2023 session, we legislators strengthened that framework in a few important ways. In rural areas, low salaries and a tough housing market have made it difficult to recruit and retain teachers. I rolled up my sleeves and gained support for my bipartisan bill that will significantly help recruit teachers in rural areas by offering bonuses for students with student loans. I also supported raising salaries for teachers. Because being able to read is crucial to mastering the curriculum of the higher grades, I carried a bill that will ensure children are good readers by third grade.
In all honesty though, the 2023 session was tough for Montana’s public schools, children, and families. The educational priorities passed by the Republican-led 2023 legislature will damage the very foundation of public education in Montana, hurting our sense of community, the involvement of the public in the schools we fund, and most importantly, our children.
The most dangerous legislation to pass establishes charter schools. One bill will take the taxes you pay for local public schools, governed by school boards you elect and meeting state standards for curriculum and teacher qualifications you had a say in, and divert those funds to “charter schools” that need not hire qualified teachers or meet minimum standards for teacher qualifications or curriculum. You don’t even get to elect the charter school board!
In terms of accountability and transparency, the charter school legislation cuts against the grain of everything Montanans expect – and Montana’s constitution requires. It is simply not acceptable. The impact of this legislation on our chronically underfunded public schools will be devastating. Instead of shifting resources away from our public schools, we should be investing more in them. That’s what I hear when I listen to parents, teachers, and school board members who wake up every day working to help our children succeed in this changing world.
Let’s be clear. These “innovations” are not Montana solutions to Montana problems. They are part of a national agenda to divide our children from one another. That agenda is advanced by inundating citizens with misinformation about what is being taught or read or learned in our public schools. It is shameful.
I believe in a Montana where every child is inspired to learn. I believe in a Montana where every child, regardless of background, income or zip code, is given every opportunity to succeed. I believe in a Montana where we work together with our public schools to create a place that is safe, welcoming, exciting – simply a great place to learn. I think you believe in these things too.
Public education is the greatest equalizer in our country. It is essential to the special bond Montanans enjoy in their communities. I will continue to fight for Montana students, teachers, families, and communities.