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Group wants public to be aware of state’s school funding crisis

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Alarmed about the future of education in Montana, a new coalition of
largely education groups has formed to raise public awareness of funding
problems.

By PETER JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Writer

"Stand Up for Education" is a mix of groups supporting high-quality public
schools, colleges and universities in Montana.

"We are concerned because we believe our schools are in crisis and
therefore our children are at risk," said Cathy Day of Great Falls, president
of the Montana Parent Teacher Association. "We see looming shortages of
qualified teachers on the horizon, school closures that are resulting in
increased class sizes and aging buildings."

"There is a distinct link between high-quality public education and
economic development," said Mark Semmens, an investment banker from
Great Falls and a member of the Montana Board of Regents. "If we truly
wish to move Montana forward, we need to start making the necessary
investments in education."

"Excellent public schools and colleges — some of the best in the nation
and world — are Montana’s tradition," said Judie Woodhouse of Polson,
Montana’s 2002 Teacher of the Year. "But I’m worried, because state
funding for education is far short of what schools need."

The coalition will sponsor 10 community meetings across the state to
provide information on the current state of public education, which
members consider inadequate.

No time or place has been set for yet for the May 9 meeting in Great Falls.
Other meetings will be 7 p.m. April 16 at the Helena High School Little
Theater and 7 p.m. April 25 in the Havre Middle School assembly room.

The coalition will cite these statistics:

ãOver the past decade, the state’s share of K-12 funding has fallen from
71.4 percent of general fund costs to 61.3 percent. That has resulted in low
teacher salaries, elimination of academic programs, bigger class sizes and
the closure of neighborhood schools in a few larger towns.

ãThe average teacher salaries in Montana now rank 48th in the nation,
lagging more than $10,000 behind the national average.

ãMore than 70 percent of Montana’s newly trained teachers – graduates of
Montana’s universities and colleges – leave Montana each year to teach in
states with higher salaries.

ãThe state’s share of higher education funding has fallen from 73 percent to
49 percent over the past decade. That has resulted in rising tuition, major
faculty layoffs, fewer course offerings and libraries, labs and classrooms
that are seriously out of date, the group says.

ãTuition for Montana residents has more than doubled in the past 10 years
at state colleges and universities. Students with loans now graduate with
an average debt load of $17,000.

Stand Up for Education coalition members include the teachers union
MEA-MFT, the Montana School Boards Association, School
Administrators of Montana, Montana Rural Education Association, alumni
associations at the University of Montana and Montana State University,
the Montana State AFL-CIO, American Association of University a,
Montana Quality Education Coalition and the League of Women Voters of
Montana.
For more information

Stand Up for Education is at 1232 E. 6th Ave., Helena, MT
59601; or call 442-4250, fax 443-5081 or e-mail
[email protected].

http://www.greatfallstribune.com/news/stories/20020405/localnews/70769.html

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