Senator Tester visits Great Falls to talk federal investments in education

by Great Falls Tribune, Sarah Dettmer

Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., visited Skyline Preschool in Great Falls on Thursday to highlight key investments in public education included in the federal spending passed by Congress on March 23.

The bipartisan funding bill included billions of dollars for students, educators and districts with a focus on special education, impact aid, early child care and rural and underserved populations.

“The truth is, you have to keep talking about the programs that are important and people will listen,” Tester said. “Ultimately, in the end, we were able to get them funded. These dollars I think are dollars that are going to be very well spent and critically important for kids to be able to succeed, but it’s going to be a continual fight.”

Major investments include:

$600 million for high-speed internet access in rural and underserved areas
$15 billion in Title I Funding to support disadvantaged and underperforming students
$2 billion in Title II Funding to recruit, retain and train teachers and principals
$1 billion in Title IV Funding to improve student health, provide well-rounded curriculum and upgrade technology
$250 million for preschool development grants to enhance preschool program infrastructure and quality
$1.2 billion for learning centers that provide before school, after school and summer programs
$12.28 billion for special education and accommodations for students with disabilities
$1.4 billion in impact aid funding to schools serving Native American children, military children and other children in districts with federal activity that reduces their tax base
$9.8 billion for Head Start educational, nutritional and social services programs for children up to five years old
$5.2 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants that help low-income families pay for preschool and daycare

Tester also was joined by parents who have experienced the opportunities available to their children from these investments. Local parent Teresa Schreiner has a son who was diagnosed with autism and has seen great improvement to his education at Skyline Preschool.

“Because of Skyline Preschool, Great Falls Public Schools and these federal resources, our son has access to speech, occupational therapy and special education immediately,” said Schreiner, who is married to Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls. “Our child had a 78 percent delay a year ago, he now has a 6 percent delay because of these resources. This happened in a school, it happened because of teachers.”

Dale Lambert, GFPS director of student services, said these funds will have an impact in Great Falls, especially as the district’s budget continues to tighten. GFPS uses the impact aid it received for serving families from Malmstrom Air Force Base to cover one-time emergency expenses. However, recent cuts have forced GFPS to rely on the funds for ongoing costs like staffing.

Tester emphasized that this spending bill will bolster public education and give local school officials the flexibility to keep decision-making local.

“Investing in our schools will provide dividends for the future,” Tester said. ‘That’s why I worked with all folks – democrats, republicans, independents – to make major investments in our schools and in our education system so that each and every student can reach their full potential.”