By Tim Leeds
There were some people from Havre included in the crowd at the State Capitol Saturday, March 3, to give a joint rally for K-12 and higher public education.
"I don't know what the net effect will be, but if we don't make our voices heard nothing will happen," said Marie Deegan, Havre area captain for the rally. "We decided to put our mouths where the money is."
Deegan said Havre was fairly well-represented at the rally, with 40 to 50 people there including Havre Superintendent of Schools Kirk Miller and Trustee Judy Bricker. She said they took about 30 people on the bus that left Havre High School Saturday morning, and 10 or 15 more said they were driving their own vehicles there.
Miller said he estimated that there were about 2,500 people at the rally.
"All three floors were completely full," he said; "people were standing outside on the steps waiting to get in."
Miller said he thought the rally went very well, sending a message to the legislators that a large number of Montana people care about their schools and want to see them funded appropriately. He said some of the legislators there seemed to have a positive response from the rally.
Miller said Senate President Tom Beck, R-Deer Lodge, said the funding will be higher than the zero percent increase in the first year and three percent in the second that Gov. Judy Martz has proposed.
Miller said the highlight for him was probably having the school funding tied into economic development, using the very language of business.
"Several of the speakers emphasized that we are at a crossroads now to make an investment in our schools that will pay dividends and see returns in the future," he said.
Miller said they made the point that the state has to keep its public schools as good as they are or it will face the demise of the schools "and that will further hurt our economy."
He said the governor's proposed budget, which is being characterized as an increase, is actually a decrease of about $18 million or more because of declining enrollments. He said this comes after 10 years of state funding increases that don't even match inflation.
Miller said state funding in 1991 was about $407 million, and is about $458.5 million in 2001. He said this increase, about 12.7 percent or 1.27 percent per year, doesn't come close to the average inflation, which was about 3 percent each year or 30 percent over 10 years.
Miller said most of the about $51.5 million increase from 1991 to 2001 came in the last two years, during the 1999 Legislative Session and the special session held last spring.
The governor's proposed budget for the Montana University System is also less than requested by the system. MUS requested an increase of $500 per student. Martz's budget proposes a $100 increase per student. Representatives of MUS have said this will require a tuition increase to make up for the remaining $400 per student.