Tester to DeVos: Stop Forcing Montana Schools to Jump Through Bureaucratic Hoops

Senator Calls on Controversial Education Secretary to Overturn New Burdensome Requirements for Rural Schools

(Big Sandy, Mont.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is fighting to tear down new bureaucratic barriers that are putting critical funding for rural Montana school districts at risk.

Tester, a former teacher, is calling on controversial Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to overturn her new requirements that force rural schools to complete additional paperwork to access their Small, Rural School Achievement Program grants.

“It is important educators spend their valuable time ensuring students get the best possible education, not battling federal paperwork and jumping through bureaucratic hoops,” Tester wrote. “Instead of dedicating precious time to wrapping up one school year and preparing for the next, rural schools are swimming through an alphabet soup of government acronyms just to understand what your Department is now requiring from them.”

DeVos created the new requirements earlier this year. Montana superintendents have contacted Tester saying these additional application requirements and time restraints are wasting time and hurting students.

“It came as a shock at the end of the school year to realize we had a plethora of hoops to jump through in order to access our REAP funds for the 2017-2018 school year, and very little time in which to complete the process,” said Jule Walker, Superintendent of Plevna Public Schools. “In previous years the application allowed for expeditious access to the funds, as well as local control, on behalf of educating our students. The 2017 application was very time consuming, especially for Districts with one administrator focused on completing end of the school year activities. The requirement for watching scheduled webinars as well as navigating the cumbersome directives to access a variety of sites created anxiety for many administrators because we recognize the significance of the funding REAP provides. One has to question why these tedious procedures were created-Is it to make the process so daunting that rural schools could not meet the deadlines thereby justifying a lack of interest or need for this additional funding for our students? REAP funding DOES make a difference for the students we serve in our rural districts.”

“The Montana Small Schools Alliance represents 138 frontier one and two room school districts who have one teacher responsible for all of the district paperwork,” said Dan Ranks, Executive Director of the Montana Small School Alliance. “These are districts who have previously received the REAP grant as approximately 25-30 percent of their total budget and have utilized it effectively and properly. To place burdensome new requirements on those districts is exceptionally short sited. The MSSA wholeheartedly supports Senator Jon Tester’s efforts to roll them back and a striking example of why Senator Tester was unanimously selected as the 2017 ‘Rural Hero’ award winner by the National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium for his support of rural youth nationwide.”

More than 300 Montana school districts qualify for the Small, Rural School Achievement Program. The grants are available to rural school districts with less than 600 students, and last year Montana school districts received more than $5 million through the program.

Montana school administrators were previously required to fill out a single field on a website in order to receive their grant. DeVos has installed new requirements that include obtaining and verifying multiple applicant identification numbers, and in the case of one Montana superintendent, required over 20 pieces of correspondence with the U.S. Education Department regarding the status of the school district’s grant.

These new requirements are proving difficult to meet, and as many as 20 percent of schools nationwide have not been able to submit an application for their grants.

“In an era when Montana’s public school budgets are tighter than ever, our rural schools cannot afford to have even one dollar from these grants threatened by trivial bureaucratic red tape,” Tester added. “I strongly urge you to remove this annual application requirement and return to the standard process through which eligible schools accessed these rural grants.”

Tester’s letter to DeVos is available HERE.