From the State Library and Montana Historical Society to K-12 schools all over the state, from special education to higher education, the Education Interim Committee covered a lot of ground at its second meeting, held on August 22, 2017, in Helena.
The meeting began with updates from the Montana State Library and the Montana Historical Society, both of which sustained significant budget reductions through SB 261. Directors of the two entities informed the committee that they are eliminating several local and statewide programs, laying off employees, and otherwise cutting expenses in various ways.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen shared some of the goals for K-12 education that the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) will focus on, including taking a whole-child approach, ensuring teachers have the resources they need to be successful, increasing math proficiency, and connecting students with out-of-school and work-based learning opportunities. Staff from OPI then presented on Montana’s ESSA Plan.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind and requires states to develop their own accountability plans for student and school success, with an emphasis on ensuring that achievement gaps are closed among low-performing subgroups of students. The committee was interested in the accountability indicators and long-term goals contained in the plan, as well as the state and school report cards that are required under ESSA. The format of these report cards is still being developed by the OPI with the broad stakeholder collaboration required under ESSA. The Montana ESSA Plan will be submitted to the United States Department of Education by mid-September, after which a peer review and feedback process will take place, allowing for possible changes to the plan before final submission.
The committee continued its work on the HJ 1 study of funding for education programs serving students with special needs, which includes children with disabilities, at-risk students, students with limited English proficiency, children who qualify for accommodations under a 504 plan, and gifted and talented children. Committee staff provided a review of previous study recommendations dating back to 2001. OPI provided an overview of how special education is funded and how the needs of students with dyslexia are addressed. Reps. Jones and Funk and Sen. McClafferty shared information discussed at a meeting on teacher preparation related to serving gifted and talented students convened by the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) in late July.
At its first meeting in June, the committee expressed a desire to increase collaboration with the Board of Regents of Higher Education and identified three higher education topics to examine over the interim: addressing costs and student loan debt; providing unified, coherent, and funded state financial aid programs; and ensuring thriving regional and two-year campuses. So the committee was pleased to welcome Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian and Regents Johnstone, Nystuen, and Sheehy to the table following lunch at this second meeting to discuss these and other issues. Committee staff provided an overview of how collaboration has been structured in the past and then Deputy Commissioner Tyler Trevor reviewed the MUS Strategic Plan, stopping throughout for questions and discussion. The Regents and Commissioner shared some of the other initiatives they are undertaking, acknowledging commonalities with committee interests. Members requested that future collaborative meetings take place and be structured to focus on specific topics.
The committee concluded its second meeting by further refining its work plan for the interim. Video, audio, and minute logs of the meeting are available via www.leg.mt.gov.
The committee will hold its next meeting Thursday-Friday, November 16-17, 2017, on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman, and will include a joint session with the Board of Regents. For more information visit the committee’s website or contact Pad McCracken, committee staff, at email@example.com or 406-444-3595.