The federal law No Child Left Behind is a poor fit for small and rural states like Montana. All too often it prevents local control and punishes schools when they need help the most. We must maintain high expectations for our students and we are doing that the Montana way.
I helped pass legislation in 2009 that established Montana's Digital Academy. The program, run out of The University of Montana, is expanding educational opportunities for Montana students in three ways:
1) Dual credit classes ae listed on the Montana Digital Academy web site and links are provided so students can register. Montana students can access more than 60 online dual credit courses from their homes or schools. Increasing numbers of Montana students can start college with a semester or two worth of classes already complete.
2) Credit recovery classes, specifically designed for students who need to recover credit they have not successfully earned in high school, are increasing the likelihood that more Montana students will graduate from high school. Students can test out of portions of courses like Algebra II and focus on what they missed to earn credit for the entire course.
3) Small Montana schools may not offer some of the courses offered through the Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) such as AP Calculus, English 4, Chemistry, or World Languages. Students with scheduling conflicts at their home school can take MTDA classes online. Accelerated learners from middle schools can take advantage of enrolling in these high school courses. This year, students are selecting from a list of 52 courses and taking the courses online with other students from around Montana.
In Spring 2011, 76 teachers from school districts across Montana taught part-time for the digital academy. Last year 2751 students took 5530 classes. These students came from 170 different Montana schools. Enrollments continue to increase and I will be working to increase funding for the Digital Academy to maximize educational opportunities for all Montana students.
Higher education is increasingly important to our nation and state as other nations become more competitive and surpass us in college attendance and completion. Montana's colleges and universities are doing a good job. Our colleges of technology are experiencing record enrollments and are becoming more essential to education in Montana. Our universities are attracting research money and are focusing on educational programs that will bring good businesses and jobs to our state.
However, we must do more to make sure Montana students graduate from high school and attend college. I support programs, such as Schools of Promise and Graduation Matters Montana!, implemented by our Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau. We need to improve high school and college graduation rates in Montana.
To make sure more Montana kids are able to attend college, I will sponsor legislation to increase funding for Pell grants which are awarded to low-income students to help them pay for college. On average, states provide $21.40 for every $100 of federal Pell grant money. Our match in Montana, where we have a high rate of low-income families, is $4.90. This is unacceptable. I will work tirelessly to increase funding for low-income students who want to attend college. They, their families, and Montana will deserve better.