State school leaders to get ear of U.S. ed chief Duncan

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Gail Schontzler

Kirk Miller, Bozeman schools superintendent, is flying next week to Washington, D.C., to tell the nation’s top education official that Montana has a strong school system that could be hurt by some of the president’s proposed reforms.  

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., invited Miller and other Montana educators to meet April 12 with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“We’re a state that’s probably not in need of reforms,” Miller said.

Montana has a good education system, but it won’t do as well if the state and federal governments fail to fund it, Miller said.

Duncan proposed to replace the No Child Left Behind Law, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, with a new “Blueprint for Reform.”

Under one proposal, school districts would have to compete for federal education-reform grants, instead of getting a share of federal money based on their enrollments or poverty levels.

Miller said Bozeman’s and several other school districts put together an “exceptional” federal grant application that included Helena, Havre, Box Elder and three Indian reservation school districts. Their application was turned down.

“That dog didn’t hunt,” Miller said. “We worked really hard to meet the criteria. It tells us Montana is not likely to put together a (successful) grant. We don’t have enough students and we’re not ‘failed’ enough.”    

If Congress would just do what it promised many years ago and pay for a larger share of special education costs, that would go a long way toward helping schools, Miller said.

Tester invited Kirk and others to Washington in anticipation of Congress taking up debate on reauthorizing the main federal education law, a spokeswoman said.

“With Congress planning to take up reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — the ‘No Child Left Behind’ law — this year, Jon arranged this meeting so Secretary Duncan can hear firsthand from Montana schools about the challenges schools in rural areas are facing,” Andrea Helling wrote in an email.

Those invited represent a cross section of state educators: Principal George Rider from Scobey; Rhonda McCarty, an elementary principal from Great Falls; Darrell Rud, School Administrators of Montana executive director; Diane Fladmo, MEA-MFT research director; Newton Old Crow Jr., adult vocational education coordinator for the Crow Tribe; and Janine Pease, cabinet head of education for the Crow   Tribe.

Speaking last month, Obama said that four out of five U.S. schools may be labeled as failures this year under the No Child law. The president set a new overall education goal that by 2020 every student should graduate “ready for college and a career.”

Under No Child Left Behind, the goal is that 100 percent of students will test at grade level in math and reading by 2014. The law labels schools with low test scores as not making adequate yearly progress.    

In Bozeman, despite generally strong test scores, five out of 10 public schools are now labeled as not making adequate yearly progress. That’s usually because too few special education or low-income students test at grade level.

Miller said when the standard is that 100 percent of students must score well, “it’s not accomplishable.”