It’s that time of year again when the nights and mornings get a little cooler the leaves start changing color and the elk are bugling. Soon, it will be time to break out the snow shovel and winter coat. The changing season also means that across Montana our students and teachers are back in the classroom.
As a father of four and a product of Montana’s public schools from kindergarten at Longfellow Elementary School in Bozeman through college at Montana State University, I look forward to this time of year and the new beginnings and opportunities that it brings.
And like many of you who are raising your own families or sending kids off to college, I’m focused on making sure that our students and teachers have the resources they need to succeed, and on letting Montana, not Washington, D.C., decide how best to allocate your tax dollars. For Montana, that means safeguarding the resources that we use to fund our teachers and school infrastructure projects.
Natural resource development and agriculture in our state contributes tens of millions of dollars every year to schools across Montana. But the Obama administration’s anti-energy agenda is threatening drastic cuts to the resource jobs and development responsible for much of our education funding. Especially for Montana’s hundreds of rural schools, this funding can mean the difference between providing the best possible education for our children and just getting by.
For example, school districts in coal-producing counties over the last few years have been able to complete critical infrastructure projects with help from coal tax revenue. Projects like improving the heating system at Lame Deer High School to eliminate school cancellations during winter months. In Musselshell County a quarter of the school district property tax revenue comes from taxes paid by the Signal Peak Energy coal mine.
But policies like the Obama administration’s new moratorium on coal leases and extreme, anti-energy regulations like the EPA Power Plan threaten these resources and are putting our school funding at risk.
It’s not only coal revenue that is keeping the lights on in our schools. In the northwest part of our state we have seen school funding threatened by the significant cuts in our timber harvests, which for nearly a century helped provide strong funding to communities and schools. Temporary stopgap funding is not guaranteed to continue indefinitely, so I’m fighting to restore active management of our National Forests to ensure that our forested counties receive sufficient funding for schools long into the future.
Ensuring that our teachers and students have the resources they need to succeed also means giving states greater flexibility in allocating federal education funding to return the dollars where they belong: to the classroom. My legislation, the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act, accomplishes this by increasing states’ ability to allocate federal education funding to best fit their students’ needs, frees Montana from burdensome federal regulations and better ensures academic achievement for our students.
We all want future generations to have a bright future and give them access to a quality education. For our state, that means using the revenue collected from responsibly managing our natural resources to help improve school facilities and improve teacher pay.
Increasing education opportunities in Montana isn’t going to happen through another federal mandate or one-size-fits-none regulation. We need to empower the people in our state – our local school boards, our teachers and parents — to work together to develop solutions that best fit our kids’ unique needs. And through responsible development of our state’s natural resources, we can help ensure that Montana schools have the funding they need to be set for success and our graduates have high paying jobs in Montana upon graduation.