The Education Interim Committee met in Helena on Jan. 22-23 and took a look at Montana’s education system spanning preschool to postsecondary.
Siri Smillie, Gov. Steve Bullock’s education policy advisor, updated the committee on the new STARS Preschool Grant Pilot Program. The 2017 Legislature provided the Department of Public Health and Human Services with an additional $3 million in both FY 18 and FY 19 to “increase access to preschool for 4- and 5-year-old children.” The department has awarded grants to 17 programs funding 19 classrooms in a variety of settings across the state, including public school districts, private providers, and Head Start. More information can be found at www.starspreschool.mt.gov
The committee took a look at what is generally termed “student-centered learning” but also called “individualized,” “personalized,” or “competency-based” learning. A number of schools around the state are implementing innovations related to these approaches. The Office of Public Instruction hosted a Celebrating Innovative Learning Conference in November and several representatives from school districts featured at that conference shared their experiences with the committee.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen informed the committee that the U.S. Department of Education approved Montana’s ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) Accountability Plan. ESSA is the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaced No Child Left Behind. While the approval of Montana’s plan is a major accomplishment, there remains significant work in implementing the plan, and Superintendent Arntzen pledged to continue the collaborative effort in doing so.
Most of the afternoon of the first day was devoted to the House Joint Resolution No. 1 study of funding for programs serving students with special needs, and at this meeting the committee focused on gifted and talented students, at-risk student, and English learners. The afternoon concluded with a panel describing efforts to address educator recruitment and retention difficulties, especially in rural school districts.
On the second day, committee members attended the 2018 Economic Outlook Seminar put on by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The theme of this year’s seminar is “The Future of Higher Education in Montana” and features a luncheon keynote by Regent of Higher Education Bob Nystuen. The seminars are held at a number of locations around the state and continue through mid-March.
Following the seminar, the committee reconvened at the Capitol and was joined by Regent Nystuen and Regent Casey Lozar, along with representatives of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, for a conversation about the Montana University System. The discussion included an update on dual enrollment and dialogue related to the commitment to the smaller campuses within the system. The committee, in collaboration with the Regents, plans to examine the numerous state financial aid programs currently in existence with an eye towards ensuring that these programs are unified, coherent, and funded moving forward.
The committee concluded by reviewing its work plan and discussing agenda items for its next meeting.
Video, audio, and minute logs of the meeting are available via www.leg.mt.gov.
The committee will hold its next meeting on March 22 and 23 at the Capitol. For more information visit the committee’s website or contact Pad McCracken, committee staff, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-444-3595.