By Peggy Cordell
Two state educational issues in Montana are receiving some attention these days. The first is an issue of equity in school funding. Our bicameral legislature has struggled to find a fair funding formula between large (urban) and small (rural) school districts. Through the years, legislative school funding measures have passed and lawsuits have been filed. Our new governor, Steve Bullock, just signed into law SB 175, which adjusts the school funding formula to provide a both a base budget and per student revenue stream for all school districts. Most of this new revenue comes from extractive (oil and gas) resources in Montana, rather than traditional property taxes. Once in place, time will tell how well this new funding formula addresses equity in statewide educational funding.
The second issue is Montana’s adoption of the Common Core Standards, along with 44 other states. Montanans are a fiercely independent and proud people who generally buck organized attempts to regulate anything. Those of us in education are beginning to notice a groundswell of public opinion opposed to the Common Core Standards. Historically, Montana students have performed rather well on standardized tests in comparison to national averages. The public perception is that the Common Core will dilute current educational standards and student achievement levels. Those of us who have studied the Common Core Standards and accompanying performance test items may disagree. Under the new Smarter Balance tests how will Montana students fare? The answer to that question will be answered in 2015.