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Romano Criticizes Handling Of School Relief Funding, But Offers No Plan

Missoula's Hellgate High School
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
Missoula's Hellgate High School

Melissa Romano, the Democrat running for to lead Montana’s K-12 public school system criticized the current school superintendent's handling of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds. 

Melissa Romano and Republican incumbent Elsie Artnzen disagree over whether or not the state should have followed a now defunct federal rule that led to potentially $800,000 that was meant for public schools instead going to private and home schools across Montana.

In early September a court struck down the U.S. Department Of Education's rule for how public schools were to pass relief funding from the federal government to private and home schools across the nation.

The struck-down rule ordered public school districts to give non-public schools a larger share, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars more to those schools across Montana.

Candidate for superintendent Melissa Romano says Arntzen should have waited to send out the funds while the Department of Education's rule was tied up in court.

"There were so many states who pushed back and could see right away that it was not the way Congress intended for that money to be used."

Romano has also criticized Arntzen for not providing a plan detailing how public schools could recoup their losses. Romano says she doesn’t have a plan herself and says she’s not advocating for private and home schools to pay back money spent on services, or to return goods such as laptops. 

Arntzen has previously said districts needed federal relief funding to start the school year and OPI couldn’t wait for the issue to be settled in court. Arntzen’s campaign did not make her available for an interview, but in an emailed statement an unnamed campaign spokesperson wrote, "The OPI followed all statutes and regulations in this matter."

Arntzen and Romano are in a repeat matchup to lead OPI. They ran against each other in 2016, when Arntzen won the seat by 4 percentage points. 

Montana School Board Association’s Lance Melton says the non-profit doesn’t take sides in political races. He says there’s no turning back the clock on the potentially $800,000 of additional relief funding spent on non-public schools.

"The money has already been distributed. Under the circumstances, we fully anticipate that the schools who received it have spent it."

OPI Spokesperson Dylan Klapmeier says the agency doesn’t expect that all of that money has been spent, but OPI is still calculating how much.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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