As students across the state of Montana start the new school year, we decided to start a five part back-to-school series. In each post, we will discuss a policy that helps students increase their achievement – some policies will be obvious, others may not, For our first we will start with the most obvious and basic – state investment in public schools and specifically pre-Kindergarten.
Over the next two years, Montana will spend $2,082 million dollars (50% of the state’s general fund) on education systems throughout the state, including K-12 and higher-education institutions. These investments will pay for things like maintaining and improving K-12 public schools, hiring skilled teachers, providing programs that offer supplemental education opportunities outside of traditional classroom settings, and helping students afford college tuition. Other investments during the past legislative session include:
- A 12% increase in state aid to K-12 schools, which will help fund quality educator payments, Indian Education for All, and American Indian Achievement Gap Payments.
- Legislators approved an increase of almost $27 million to help fund the Montana University System, which will result in a tuition freeze for resident students attending 2 and 4 year campuses during 2016 and 2017.
- Providing $1.5 million in the state budget to continue support for the preservation efforts of tribal languages.
Unfortunately, when it came down to the wire, legislators did not appropriate funding to support Montana’s youngest learners by investing in pre-k. Governor Bullock’s Early Edge proposal would have provided funding to establish a statewide and public pre-kindergarten program. However, because funding for the program was not approved, Montana remains only one of a handful of states that does not fund an early childhood education program.
Pre-k is a relatively inexpensive investment with high returns. In fact, for every dollar one invests in high quality early childhood education programs, like statewide pre-k, there is a seven dollar return on investment. This return on investment comes in the form of improved academic performance once children age out of pre-k and into the K-12 system, reduced special education costs, reduced crime rates, and higher lifetime earnings. In Montana, pre-k could potentially provide up to $113 million in economic returns.
But most importantly – and why we include it in our back-to-school series – children would be better prepared to succeed in kindergarten, less likely to need special education, perform better in high school, graduate at higher rates, and be more likely to go to college. In addition, parents would have access to affordable childcare and would be more likely to remain in the workforce. And we know that kids do better in school when there is less financial stress at home.
Our K-12 public education system is a great example of a shared public investment that impacts us all. Not only is it good for families and individuals, but it is also important to our economy, as businesses of all kinds need skilled workers. Stay tuned for four more installments of our back-to-school series.