The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2004 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who in November 2004 became the first Democrat to be elected governor of Montana since 1988, has signed a two-year budget that significantly increases spending for elementary and secondary education.
The $1.2 billion K-12 budget, which covers fiscal years 2006 and 2007, includes $70 million more for schools than the previous biennial budget. The $597 million K-12 appropriation for fiscal 2006 represents a 6.8 percent increase over 2005.
The Montana legislature closed its session by only partially satisfying a court ruling that requires it to fix the state’s school aid system by Oct. 1, 2006.
In a decision this past March, Montana Supreme Court Justice William Leaphart called the funding system “constitutionally deficient.” The court had issued a preliminary order in November 2004 striking down the current funding system and telling the legislature to come up with a better one. (“Court Overturns Montana Funding System,” Nov. 17, 2004.)
Responding to the court’s mandate, lawmakers approved legislation defining a high-quality basic education, which Gov. Schweitzer signed. The legislature will hold a special session in December to address the court’s requirement to restructure the school funding system.
Montana’s budget includes a first-ever appropriation of $3.4 million to carry out the Indian Education for All Act, which was passed in 1999 but never funded. The recent state supreme court rulings also said that Montana had not met its constitutional duty to teach students about Native Americans in the state.