Samuel Wilson / Bozeman Daily Chronicle – Credit
Montana’s Educational Leaders K-12 and higher education systems recently converged on the University of Montana campus for a comprehensive discussion on the multitude of new laws, regulations, and initiatives approved throughout 2023. The meeting provided a platform for state leaders to highlight achievements and discuss the impact of these initiatives.
Dylan Klapmeier, education policy advisor to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, emphasized the realization of numerous goals set by Montana’s Board of Education over the past 12 months. These achievements include measures to enhance early childhood literacy, boost state funding for trade-based education, and promote a more individualized approach to student learning.
Significant Increase in Students Taking Dual-Credit Courses
Members of the Board of Education, including the Board of Regents, Board of Public Education, Gianforte, Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian, and State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen, took turns spotlighting individual accomplishments. Notable achievements ranged from new school quality standards at the K-12 level to a significant increase in students taking dual-credit courses for college credit.
Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs Joe Thiel reported a remarkable statistic — one-third of Montana’s 9,310 high school graduates participated in dual enrollment during the 2022 school year. Thiel emphasized the benefits, stating that students engaging in dual enrollment not only increase their likelihood of attending college but also enter the workforce more quickly, having gained valuable college experience.
Participation in the Montana Digital Academy, an online program offering courses to students across the state, also saw a surge. Mike Agostinelli, Assistant Director, reported a 42% increase in students participating in advanced placement courses and a staggering 97% increase in those taking dual-credit courses. With the passage of House Bill 749, the academy plans to introduce new offerings, including shorter courses, industry certifications, and a curriculum for classroom use.
The week’s meetings covered a range of topics, including the approval of applications for new public charter schools under House Bill 549. Jane Lee Hamman, a Board of Public Education member, reported that one of the 26 applications had been rejected due to failure to submit the proposal to the Livingston Public School Board. The remaining applications will undergo review on November 30.
Signing a Letter Expressing Concern to the National Education Association
In response to concerns about misinformation in Indigenous training sessions, the Board unanimously signed a letter expressing concern to the National Education Association. The letter, drafted by the Montana Advisory Council on Indian Education, emphasized the importance of accurate information and prompted an apology from the NEA, acknowledging and rectifying the issue.
On the higher education front, University of Montana President Seth Bodnar highlighted positive enrollment trends, citing the highest fall retention rate among freshmen in UM’s history. The focus on in-state student recruitment continued, with Scott Lemmon, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Strategy, discussing efforts to increase the percentage of Montana high school graduates enrolling at Montana colleges.
However, challenges in teacher recruitment and retention were acknowledged. Dean of UM’s College of Education, Dan Lee, addressed the Education Interim Committee about the decline in enrollment in college-based educator preparation programs nationally. Issues such as low pay, high living costs, and behavioral challenges among students were identified as factors contributing to this decline.
Board Voted to Adopt the New Fee Structure
A notable point of discussion revolved around proposed increases to teacher licensing fees. The Board of Public Education approved a proposal for staggered fee increases, emphasizing the need to fund ongoing maintenance of the Office of Public Instruction’s new licensing software. Despite opposition from Superintendent Elsie Arntzen, the board voted to adopt the new fee structure, a decision met with disappointment from Arntzen.
In summary, the meetings provided a platform for Montana’s educational leaders to address accomplishments, challenges, and ongoing initiatives, reflecting the state’s commitment to enhancing education across all levels.