The Education Interim Committee met September 11-12, 2019, to continue its interim work. A highlight of the meeting was a visit with executive board members of the Montana Association of Student Councils—high school students representing districts all over the state—regarding the committee’s look at student well-being.

The students’ comments reflected a desire for proactive approaches to addressing student mental health concerns as well as helping students deal with stress. The panel followed a presentation by the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) on the results of the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey which showed progress in addressing bullying, but raised concerns about anxiety, depression, and suicide among Montana youth.

The committee also welcomed a panel of employers to discuss how education can better serve workforce needs. The panelists related labor shortages and hiring challenges, but also shared successes that involved partnering with local schools and colleges to create work-based learning experiences which allow students to explore a career path and develop the skills employers seek. The committee plans to continue exploring how to encourage these kinds of partnerships.

Both OPI and the Department of Public Health and Human Services provided reports on recent programs that expanded preschool slots for 4-year-olds across the state through the federal Preschool Development Grant and the state-funded STARS Preschool Pilot Program. Both programs reported success in helping more kids be kindergarten-ready, especially children from lower-income families.

Regarding postsecondary education, the committee explored the basics of student financial aid and student loan debt, and heard from the National Conference of State Legislatures about some strategies to address student loan debt being implemented around the country.

The committee will hold its next meeting Thursday-Friday, November 21-22, 2019, in Bozeman. The meeting will include site visits around Bozeman, sessions held on the Montana State University campus, and a joint meeting with the Board of Regents of Higher Education. For more information visit the committee’s website or contact Pad McCracken, committee staff, at or 406-444-3595.

The Legislative News.