On Wednesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen announced the Office of Public Instruction’s policy priorities for the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session. Arntzen said her number one priority is ensuring that Montana’s public schools are funded.

“We fund our public school system via the number of students that are enrolled in our schools and that promise needs to come first,” Arntzen said. “I know as a legislator for the two terms that I was in the Senate, we got that promise on the Governor’s desk within 40 days of that legislative session. Not even halfway through, we had it there on his desk for signing.”

Additionally, Arntzen said her focus will be on supporting special education and at-risk students in treatment programs.

“We have about 12% of our students that are in special needs and we want to make sure that, not just because of COVID, they are embraced in a learning model that gives them every opportunity,” Arntzen said.

Arntzen went on to explain where public school funding comes from and just how many dollars are being spent.

“We are a $2.3 billion flow of dollars to public schools,” Arntzen said. “Our state general fund total is a little over $10 billion. It is a very large number of dollars that flow out in payments to schools and 12% of that comes from the federal government itself. The rest of it flows from state and local taxes.”

According to Arntzen, a majority of school budgets goes to teachers and that doesn’t leave a significant amount of funding left for other necessities.

“We know over 90% of our school budgets pay for teachers,” Arntzen said. “That means there is less than 10% that can pay for building improvements or for implementing any of the state standards that we house here at the OPI.”

Arntzen believes stability in schools is needed now more than ever. She said she will work to get Montana’s school funding bill to the Governor’s desk as early in the session as possible.