Legislative Update September 2014

 


The Education Local Government Interim Committee held its final meeting on September 15-16 in Helena prior to the 2015 Legislative Session which will begin in January. Typically, the final meeting is a wrap up of the entire interim and consist of discussions and votes taken on topics that have been researched throughout the entire period. The committees are balanced equally with Democrats and Republicans so that any resulting recommendations or proposed legislation usually has a very broad base of support going into the session.

One of the topics we were charged with this interim was the review and passage of new guidelines for data collection and management. There is a tremendous amount of data that is collected on a regular basis by local and state entities. How this information is stored and who and when it may be distributed to is very important. We have to strike that balance between the public’s right to know, as put forth in our state’s constitution, and the right to privacy for our citizens.


The committee spent an extensive amount of time on this proposed legislation. A bill draft has been supported by the committee which addresses these issues and now will be submitted to the full legislature in January. At that time it will go through the entire procedure that any proposed legislation does, assuring a full vetting.

As part of that data collection process, a separate bill was proposed by the Historical Society Archivist to appropriate $208,000 for the purposes of retaining a consultant to determine what type of system would be necessary to collect and store this data. They provided no estimates from vendors and based this on a range of $100,000 to $208,000 that two other states had spent respectively on consultants to provide this service. While I understand the need to bring on experts in the field to help select and design our system, I am not willing to sign off on expenditures without utilizing the bidding process. I moved to table this request until estimates could be provided and the committee supported that decision.

As part of the governor’s desire to provide pre-school to all children throughout the state, the Office of Public Instruction has finally disclosed the criteria that they will use to evaluate whether a program and the staff which are employed are adequate or not. This was proposed as a rule change in Title 10 Chapter 63 ARM and includes an extensive list of accreditation standards that a pre-school program and more particularly, a pre-school instructor must posses prior to being eligible for state funding.


While the governor sent the committee a letter stating that the intent of this was to “build on their current early childhood strengths, rather than replace them” in reference to the existing private facilities located around the state, it is very clear this new criteria and funding formula will serve as a tool to crowd out private pre-school programs which charge a fee. The state funded programs will be free to all with no means testing or targeting of “at risk” populations. Originally, the state funding was supposed to serve limited populations, however with a price tag of $37 million, the governor’s current request will serve all populations of pre-school children statewide.

I have major concerns the impact this will have on the current pre-school programs that have been in operation around our state for many years. Many of them are integral parts of their respective communities and I have been contacted by them to oppose these new rules.

Therefore, I proposed a resolution opposing these new rules and our committee passed it. The resolution will go on the record and the Board of Public Education will have to consider it prior to enacting these new rules. One resolution however is not enough to stop the Bd. of Public Ed. or the Office of Public Instruction. Your participation in this effort will be critical to stop the complete takeover of pre-school programs by the state.


You may obtain the exact language for the proposed change on the Bd. Of Public Ed. Website at http://www.bpe.mt.gov. There will be a hearing at the Office of Public Instruction offices located at 1300-11th Ave in Helena on November 3. You may submit comments to Peter Donovan 46 North Last Chance Gulch PO Box 200601 Helena, Mt. 59620-0601 or email: pdonovan@mt.gov prior to 5 PM on November 6.

Please contact me at 406-687-3549 or mattrosendale@midrivers.com with any questions you may have about these or other topics.

 

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