Legislators says high quality pre-school needed

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A companion bill is left open (limited language and funding), as a means for the Senate to send funding additions to the house. A bill with a broad title may also be used to send end of the session additions from one body to the other. Pre-K education died by one vote on the House Education Committee.

I entered the session with no expectations of such a bill passing. This is a topic of passion for Governor Bullock. The governor’s original bill, HB225 was killed in committee at the start of the session. The subsequent bill, HB755, by a Republican, Eric Moore, Miles City, is the aforementioned bill that recently failed in committee. This bill is also (a version), of the governor’s and was heartily supported by the chief executive.

Why did the bill fail, where would the funding come from and will it reappear? The education organizations from the School Boards Association to the teacher’s union hated the bill (at least the union explicitly used such language). A slippery slope they claimed, with state money funding some private (and certified to high standards), pre-school programs, and the program being affiliated with Department of Public Health and Human Services (the rationale being child development rather than education), and the board of Public Education being left out. About 85 percent of the recipients are expected to be our public schools, funding pegged to the formula. The influence of these organizations, swayed some Democrats on the committee to oppose the bill. According to the governor, this model is successful in many states and would not equate to charter schools or the demise of public education. The funding is most interesting and its source seems elusive to most legislators. As Appropriations manages the spending based on the budget, a few members who have more influence on the purse strings, were able to reserve the money needed in the General Fund budget.

I’m led to believe that Pre-K may yet appear, possibly embedded in a titled bill able to accommodate the subject matter. But I certainly wouldn’t bet on that outcome. Time is getting short but as the sages of the body say, “A bill is not really dead until the last day.”

As for me, I supported HB755. Constituents in District 5 need high quality pre-school and high quality affordable child care. The education advocates have points worthy of consideration in their concerns, but over time, I believe the program will be refined to address such concerns.

Why is some of the current Muldown School building being retained? There was a strategic choice made to do so. While on the school board, we discussed the opportunities of retaining space for a future Pre-K program. I recall suggesting to trustees not to hold their breaths for the state to pitch in to fund Pre-K. Now, we are so close in a political future of great unknowns. Sometimes legislators insist on more perfect policy rather than the attainable. If a legislator insists upon the more perfect policy and is in a sizable minority, the legislator should be willing to accept disappointment and potential criticism from their constituency.

Democrat Dave Fern represents House District 5 in the state Legislature.

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