Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus is reigniting the battle to give rural students and teachers a stronger voice in the policies that impact them by creating a new Office of Rural Education Policy.
"Rural schools are the lifeblood of many Montana communities and provide the foundation for Montana jobs. This bill is about making sure our smaller schools have a strong voice and a fair shake when it comes to the policies that impact their students," said Baucus. "In rural schools, teachers and administrators often wear many hats from coaching athletics to driving the bus to sweeping the halls. The goal of this bill is to allow rural schools to focus their time and resources on students in the classroom rather than red tape in the bureaucracy."
Dave Puyear, Montana Rural Education Association Executive Director hails the measure as helping rural educators focus their time on students, instead of wading through red tape.
"Perhaps more than any other single action in recent memory - Max's bill has the potential to revolutionize the way Montana's rural schools interact with Washington and specifically the Department of Education. This is common sense legislation that helps rural schools go the extra mile for the students we educate," said Puyear.
LanceMelton, Executive Director of the Montana School Boards Association, noted that the Office of Rural Education Policy Act would provide a welcome focus on the quality education being provided in Montana.
"Bringing a stronger voice to the unique needs of public education in a rural state is necessary for the long term vitality of our rural schools," Melton said. "This bill recognizes one-size-fits all policies don't always work for Montana schools and that by improving how we work with the Department of Education, our students and teachers will have the tools they need to continue to excel. We greatly appreciate Senator Baucus' long-standing commitment to Montana's public schools, both generally and with regard to this specific proposal."
MONTANA'S RURAL EDUCATION LANDSCAPE:
·Montana is the fourth largest state by land mass, totaling over 147,000 square miles.
·More than half of Montana's 830 schools enroll less than 100 students.
·While Montana graduation rates are higher than the national average, rural schools report greater difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified teachers.
·In isolated areas, schools face challenges in providing professional development and training for teachers and principals.
·Small rural districts are often located long distances from other districts, towns, and universities, drastically reducing opportunities to partner or collaborate.
·Additionally, the long distances students must travel between school and home make it more difficult to participate in traditional remedial services, mentoring, and after-school programs.
BAUCUS' OFFICE OF RURAL EDUCATION POLICY ACT:
Joined by colleagues Senator Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Senator Collins (R-Maine), Baucus' bipartisan bill will:
·Establish the Office of Rural Education Policy, housed at the Department of Education's Office of Elementary & Secondary Education.
·This Office and its Director will be tasked with coordinating the activities related to rural education and advising the Secretary on issues important to rural schools and districts.
·The legislation requires the Department to consider the impact of proposed rules and regulations on rural education and to produce an annual report on the condition of rural education.
·The Office of Rural Education Policy will be tasked with establishing a clearinghouse for collecting and disseminating information related to the unique challenges of rural areas, as well as, the innovative efforts underway in rural schools to tackle these challenges.
Montana Organizations supporting The Office of Rural Education Policy Act:
Montana Rural Education Assoc. (MREA)
Montana School Boards Association
Montana Association of School Superintendents
Montana Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals
Montana Association of Secondary School Principals
Baucus' rural education plan does not commit additional taxpayer dollars to the Department of Education, and instead, anticipates that the office would be staffed and paid for with existing resources within the Department. Of the approximately 830 schools in Montana, over half of them enroll less than 100 students. Baucus says the timing of the bill is critical for Montana schools as Congress looks to start revamping the No Child Left Behind Act, which is the major source of federal funding for elementary and secondary education.
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