To promote efficient and equitable financing of public education, with the state funding its share of the cost, and to provide a basic education, beginning in early childhood, which produces graduates with critical thinking, reading, writing and mathematical skills.
The Montana Constitution mandates equal opportunity to develop the full educational potential of each person through a basic system of free public elementary and secondary schools, with the state funding its share of the cost of such a system. To determine whether this mandate was being carried out, the League conducted a study of the educational system.
The League found that the constitutional mandate was not being fulfilled. This was partly because such key terms as “equal opportunity,” “basic education,” “state share,” and “equitable funding” were not defined.
In 1997 the League adopted the following definition of a high-quality basic education: A basic education must offer all students a curriculum supported by technology, libraries and teaching staff, sufficient to provide individualized instructional programs. A basic education will produce graduates capable of critical thinking, with reading, writing and mathematical skills. Together with knowledge of science, the humanities, the arts and governmental processes, these will combine to enable them to become productive workers and active citizens.
The dramatic increase in school budgets financed by local voted levies indicates that state funding is still inadequate. Funding per student is one convenient and objective measure for determining equality of opportunity. Funding levels must be combined with state standards for such essentials as staff, equipment, textbooks and programs. Equality of funding must be tempered by differences in the needs of students in different localities and situations.
Geographic isolation may increase transportation costs and necessitate higher salaries to attract teachers. Smaller schools have greater per pupil costs. Students with special needs or abilities are unequally distributed in school districts. Current funding relies heavily on property taxes. Variations in taxable valuation among school districts produces a wide disparity in mill levies needed to fund state-mandated programs.
In 1986 the League adopted a Position supporting full state funding of a high-quality basic education and of state-mandated services. The League supported equity in funding and in taxpayer effort. The League also supported state accreditation standards to ensure equal opportunity for basic education for all students. Standards define the minimum program to be offered by school districts, which are free to provide programs beyond the minimum. The League favored broadening the tax base for school districts and equitable taxes. Another League goal has been consolidation of schools and/or services, taking into consideration such factors as isolation, grade levels, and school size
The League of Women Voters of Montana supports:
1. The existing structure which governs and funds the public school system of the state.
2. Changes within that structure to provide:
· That the state fully funds a high-quality basic education;
· That the state fully fund state-mandated services;
· That equity of funding and equity of taxpayer effort be primary goals.
3. Preschool Education for all children in the state of Montana.