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This week, students and families across the country are raising awareness for expanding K-12 educational opportunities. In Montana, our children and families are as diverse as our geography. The legislature is considering several bills this session to expand the delivery of education services and provide students with learning options that reflect their unique needs.

The Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee has already passed Senate Bills 22 and 18 which expand Career and Technical Education and allow students to receive diplomas from alternative programs outside their public school district. The Committee will also hear Senate Bill 109 which requires public schools to offer gifted & talented coursework. These pieces of legislation will strengthen opportunities in Montana’s public schools.

Too often we tend to focus on systems instead of students. We must always be guided by the fact that education is not about supporting a system, it is about supporting opportunities for success for all families.

The House Education Committee will be considering legislation to revise the Tax Credit Scholarship Program to increase the maximum tax deduction and reduce burdensome regulations on those accessing the scholarships. This will lead to more participation and more scholarships for Montana families. These scholarships can be applied to public, private, and other alternative programs. This will give all Montana students, especially from low-income families, greater access to educational options.

House Bill 129 has already passed the House Taxation Committee. HB 129 amends the existing Montana Family Education Savings Program to allow for K-12 expenditures as opposed to just college expenses.

Finally, House Majority Leader Sue Vinton is bringing a bill to create special education savings accounts. These accounts will help address disparities in services and allow parents to support the individual needs of their child.

As education leaders in the Montana Legislature, we believe that the future is bright for Montana students. We can fulfill our state’s constitutional promise to “establish a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person.” Now is the time to modernize learning and give parents more opportunities to choose the best options for their child to succeed.

Senator Dan Salomon (R-Ronan) is the Chairman of the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee

Representative Seth Berglee (R-Joliet) is the Chairman of the House Education Committee

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