Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Democrat Denise Juneau of Helena said one of the reasons she decided to run for state superintendent of public instruction was to try to end what amounts to opposition in state government to providing quality public education. “The last legislative process, I was seeing divisiveness there, anti-public education rhetoric,” Juneau said in an interview at the Havre Daily News last week. “It was kind of a personal affront to what (my family) believes in.” Juneau is in a hotly contested race for state superintendent. She faces Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow, Claudette Morton of Helena and Holly Raser of Missoula in the Democratic primary on June 4. The four were among the candidates who participated in a forum held at the Montana Association of County Superintendents of Schools annual meeting in Havre last Wednesday. Juneau, who attended her early school years in Billings then moved to Browning with her family and graduated from Browning High School in 1985, said her family has a tradition of public service and commitment to public education. Her parents, Stan and Carol Juneau, both taught in Browning and her father served as an administrator, including superintendent, and is now on the school board in the Browning district. Her mother has served in the state Legislature as a representative and is now serving as a state senator. Denise Juneau, who has also taught and is employed at the state Office of Public Instruction, said her experience will help her advance her agenda of strengthening Montana’s public schools. “Of course, school funding is going to be big,” Juneau said, pointing out that the Montana Quality Education Coalition has asked the state courts to reopen a lawsuit which says the state is failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a quality education in Montana. She said the main issue is funding, and the next superintendent will have to be prepared to step up to bat. The next superintendent, on his or her third day in office, will have to lobby for school funding in the Legislature’s budgeting process. “I’d like to see a lot of education take place with legislators their obligation to public education,” Juneau said. “The state constitution says The legislature shall provide a basic quality education. If we get back to that obligation, it will go a long ways.” She said the state should be able to look at other areas where spending could be trimmed to provide more funding for education, shooting for getting back to the state providing close to the 71 percent of public education funding it provided before cuts in the 1990s. For example, she said, a tax rebate paid for by a state budget surplus did not reach everyone, only property owners. That was $100 million that could have gone to schools, Juneau said. She added that increased funding provided in the last Legislature is just a beginning. “We have to sustain that,” she said. “It was a good start.” She said a key to improving funding will also be providing more flexibility to the local school districts, such as increasing funding for hiring and retaining quality educators while giving the districts leeway on how to use the funding. “Schools can decide how many teachers they need to have programs that meet accreditation standards,” she said. “It let’s schools have local control as to how to best carry those out.” She said a major goal will be working to change the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind act, which ties federal funding to schools meeting requirements based on standardized testing. “I think it does not meet the needs of rural states like Montana,” Juneau said. “We need to advocate at the federal level more. “We need to get away from punitive measures and have a more supportive system,” she added. She did say that one benefit from the No Child Left Behind requirements is increased data from the testing. “It can make us focus on disparities on groups of students,” Juneau said, adding that the disparities are mostly in groups by income level, with students from lower-income families generally performing worse. “What are the best practices and what are processes where we can support them and close that gap,” she said. “It allowed us to be more scientific in education and focus on what it is about, but it certainly needs some changes.” She said one of the issues is focusing on the testing in reading and mathematics, with areas like music, art and physical education being pushed out. “All of those issues need to be revisited,” she said. Some other areas she said the state should focus on is increasing teacher education in the use of modern technology, which should also be used to strengthen programs in rural areas. Much can also be done to strengthen attracting and retaining teachers to the rural areas, including trying to bring local students back as teachers and administrators, teachers working early with the students in developing programs, and other issues. “What is it that rural areas can offer that urban areas cannot it certainly isn’t pay,” she said. Juneau received her bachelor’s in English from Montana State University in Bozeman, then received her master’s in education from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. She taught in North Dakota before returning to teach at her alma mater, Browning High School. She then worked under state superintendent Nancy Keenan as OPI’s Indian education specialist, before returning to school and receiving her law degree from the University of Montana in Missoula. After clerking in the state Supreme Court, she returned to OPI as director of Indian Education.