Pro-Teacher And Pro-School Choice

Pro-Teacher And Pro-School Choice

"School Choice is pro-student, pro-family, and pro-teacher."

I’m pro-teacher. My English teacher in the rural public K-12 school I grew up in was excellent, and I credit her with teaching me how to structure my opinions and arguments in an essay format, the single skill that has benefited me most in my career. Without her, my passion for writing may have died after I left school.

That’s why I was disheartened, especially now as a parent, to see my local city school district in Helena recently choose to cut nearly 40 positions, mostly educators. Many school districts across the state also cutting educators due to budget woes. How many kids are losing their inspiring teacher?

My support for quality teachers is one of the reasons why I support school choice. As it stands, Montana’s public education status quo prioritizes funding school bureaucracies over teachers and students. School choice — as in giving teachers and students more choices to explore different learning environments, class structures, curriculums etc. outside of the traditional district school setting — would create more competition and promote true accountability, incentivizing our public education system to focus resources on what matters: educating students.

Since 2018 total enrollment in Montana public schools has only increased by 2% but funding has grown by 27%. Today, we spend a staggering $14,000 to $21,000 per pupil in Montana’s public education system.

But this additional money isn’t going to the teachers and students in the classroom. Three years ago, that same Helena Public School District I mentioned earlier gave administrators a 30% pay raise while offering only around a 2% pay raise to teachers. They later tried to walk some of those admin pay raises back, but as the school board’s attorney noted: “once [pay] went up, it’s up.”

Now facing a budget shortfall, the district cuts numerous educator positions. How many upper administrative positions were cut or had salaries reduced? Zero.

This isn’t an isolated incident. From 2017 to 2023, the percentage of Montana public school spending going towards instruction decreased by 6.1%, while the percentage spent on facilities increased by a whopping 58.9% and administration increased 4.7%.

Teachers appear to be getting the short end of the stick. Less than half of overall school spending, 49%, now goes to supporting instruction directly in the classrooms via teacher salaries, benefits, supplies etc.

It shouldn’t be this way. Innovative private and microschools in Montana are dedicating 80% or more of their budgets towards instruction and have been investing in educators.

The Bozeman Innovation Academy, a second year micro-school affiliated with Acton Academies, said in an interview they dedicate upwards of 85% of their budget for instructional resources and the salaries of teachers.

Petra Academy, Montana’s first classical Christian school, also spends around 80% of their budget on instruction. In fact, Petra leaders say they have raised teacher salaries 20% over the past four years.

This focus on supporting educators is one reason why Montana’s growing sector of private and microschools are soaring in popularity with teachers, parents, and students. Unchained from a public school funding formula that is “near impossible” to decipher, freed from a top-down bureaucratic system of control, private and microschools can focus resources on providing quality instruction to students. And if they don’t deliver, they face real accountability — their school could actually close if enough students and educators vote with their feet and leave.

The public education system needs this kind of freedom and accountability. Greater school choice will help prioritize quality instruction for all kids, regardless of their family’s status or income. School Choice is pro-student, pro-family, and pro-teacher.

This column originally appeared in Lee Newspapers.

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