Members of the public education lobby in Helena have put aside their traditional differences and have jointly rated lawmakers on how they voted during the recent session.
They say some local lawmakers haven’t done very well.
The Montana School Boards Association joined forces with the teacher union, the Rural Educators Association, Montana Quality Education Association and the School Administrators of Montana to rate lawmakers on their votes on public education issues.
One local lawmaker, Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, says she doesn’t particularly care what the lobby thinks, she’s more concerned with students than the public school lobby. She said she won’t “bow and curtsy,” to the school boards association and teacher unions.
Havre school board vice chair Harvey Capellen, the Hi-Line’s representative on the Montana School Boards Association, told last week’s school board meeting that he was disappointed with the voting records of two of the three state lawmakers who represent the district.
State Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, received a 100 percent rating — meaning he voted with the public schools coalition 100 percent of the time. He got a color code of green.
But Hansen got only a 25 percent rating, and fellow Republican Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, scored only 21 percent. They got a red color code.
Capellen said he was concerned that Hansen and Warburton voted against a school aid proposal from Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad. The proposal was approved because Democrats joined forces with moderate Republicans in the Legislature.
The association, he said, was against the push toward charter schools, which Hansen and Warburton have supported, and their support for a failed proposal to require school districts to get permission from parents before their children are taught sex education.
Hansen, who chairs the House Education Committee, said she was no longer going to discuss whether she is pro- or anti-public education, only whether she is pro-student.
Hansen said students should have options so they can choose what kind of education is better for them. In some cases. she said, that might be public education, but it may be some kind of tutoring program, charter schools, virtual schools or some combination of those options.
The debate should center on what is best for the student, she said, not on what is best for schools or teacher unions.
She said she favored the opt-in proposal giving parents the choice to keep their children out of sex education classes, which she said, “can be very rough.”
Schools have no trouble getting parental permissions slips returned for events like field trips, she said, “so, I just don’t buy it that they would have such a hard time getting permission slips back.”
She said she voted for several school funding bills, but the Jones bill “was not sustainable,” this year and especially in future years.
The increases total 13 percent for some districts, she said, and Montana taxpayers can’t afford it.
Warburton, too, wouldn’t retract her support for charter schools,
“I do support parental choice in their children's education and the concept of charter schools, many of which have been very successful in other states.,” she said.
The Legislature had already increased school funding, she said.
“It did not need the skyrocket of additional spending in Jones' bill,” she said.
“I stand by my votes, and to call them ‘anti-public schools’ is unfair,” Warburton said.