At the start of this legislative session, Republican leadership in both the Senate and the House announced a list of seven goals for the session: live within our means, stop the property tax increase, responsible natural resource development, openness in government, keep energy costs low, real solutions for education, and think long term.
By addressing the value of a seamless education, we can work on two of those goals at once. We can provide some real solutions for our school system, and we can think long term.
Previously, the interim committee on education created a shared goals policy with Montana's higher education system. It was very valuable for putting the Legislature and the University System on the same page. This year, I am working on House Joint Resolution 6 (HJ6), which would do the same thing for the Legislature and our public education system for grades K-12.
The goal of this process is that when a student moves from one phase of the education system to another, he/she will be prepared for a smooth, seamless transition. Kindergarten through fifth grade will teach the student everything he/she needs to know for middle school. Middle school will do the same to prepare a student for high school. And when the student finishes high school, he/she will be prepared for higher education or for the next phase of life.
By getting all elements of the education system to agree on similar goals, we can serve our students better. To think long term, we need to be preparing our students for good jobs here in Montana, and we need to be providing our employers with well-trained workers who have all the skills they will need.
This is a real solution for education. It's not just about throwing more money at the problem, it's about focusing our efforts on the needs of the student and the needs of the business community. This is a step to stop the so-called "brain drain," where many of our fine young minds have to leave the state.
What does that do for us long term? It boosts Montana's economy. When our children are educated with future needs in mind, then businesses can come here knowing they'll find great workers. When more businesses relocate to Montana, that's more jobs for everyone. It also increases the property tax base for county and municipal governments.
How does my resolution accomplish that? It asks for accountability measures in the shared policy goals. It's not enough to say that we're all going to be working toward the same end. This resolution calls for the Board of Public Education, in conjunction with the Legislature, to create goals that can be measured and tested.
The result will be that the legislature has the ability to determine whether or not money is being well invested. When we appropriate public funds to be invested in education, we need some way to determine whether or not those funds accomplished anything. If results aren't being achieved, we don't want to keep spending money the same way.
For the school system and the Legislature to publicly adopt goals and corresponding accountability measures also serves the principle of openness in government, one of our seven points. The public will know what goals have been adopted, and will be able to see whether or not those goals are being met. That way, the citizens of Montana can judge for themselves whether or not our schools are working the way we want.
HJ6 is only a resolution, so if it passes the Board of Public Education still gets to choose whether or not to set the goals and accountability measures. It's not an immediate solution. But it does move our education system closer to true long-term preparation for our students.