Thursday, April 5, 2007

Republicans propose more spending for education -- that's why the MEA opposes them

Montana Headlines has been saying all along that Democrats needed to relax up in Helena, since they can pretty much cram whatever they want into these bills once they hit the Senate. Yes, there has to be some agreement reached with Republicans, but they hold the most important cards in the Senate and the governor's mansion.

First, we had House Republicans nearly doubling the 6% increase requested by the governor, with Democrats opposing this.

Mike Dennison's article today tells us that just before the Easter break, "a Senate committee crammed Gov. Brian Schweitzer's school funding package - and then some - into an obscure backup bill."

On the one hand when talking about a 7% increase:

"It is something that will pass and that the governor will sign," said Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the union representing Montana public school teachers. "As long as we're on the upward slope (on state school funding), we're doing better than ever, ever imagined."

And on the other hand, when discussing the 8% increase in the version that finally passed the Senate, we learn that it isn't enough and that the state is going to be sued again:

Another factor in the school-funding debate is the group whose 2003 lawsuit led to the Montana Supreme Court ruling that state funding of schools is constitutionally inadequate.

Pete Carparelli, executive director of the Montana Quality Education Coalition, said after the Senate vote Wednesday that if HB417 isn't substantially changed by the end of the Legislature, the lawsuit is likely to be re-filed this year.

Two chronic issues that have come up are that Republicans have tried to provide better funding for rural areas. Given that the Democratic caucus in both houses is drawn pretty much exclusively from Montana's largest cities plus the Native American communities, it is not surprising that when it came right down to it, Democrats were going to tell rural schools to take a hike.

Oh, there is that precious funding for full-day kindergarten -- but if a local rural school wants to keep half-day kindergarten, they won't get any of that extra money they so desperately need. No problem -- just more money for the city schools to spend on their own kindergarten programs.

Ironically, it is the Republican bill that would have been most likely to avoid further lawsuits, with its higher spending levels and better funding for rural schools (a part of the lawsuit.)

And funny thing -- we didn't hear the MEA saying anything about the House Republican proposal being "better than ever, ever imagined."

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