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Lawmakers criticize OPI's failure to properly implement new education laws

 Montana Superintendent of Public Schools Elsie Arntzen
Montana Superintendent of Public Schools Elsie Arntzen

Montana lawmakers Tuesday criticized the state Office of Public Instruction (OPI) for failing to properly implement a slate of new education laws.

As lawmakers on the interim education committee received updates on education laws, some were quick to call out Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen’s absence.

Deputy Superintendent Rob Stutz attended instead and faced a bevy of criticism from lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Linda Reksten of Polson.

“You’re behind the 8-ball,” Reksten said. “And, that’s where the leader — the Superintendent of Public Instruction — should be in attendance, with all due respect.”

Stutz said he agreed the issues they were discussing were important, but added he was there to speak for Arnzten.

“I have statutory authority to speak on her behalf when she’s not available, and certainly, she’s not available for this meeting.”

A spokesperson for Arntzen told MTPR she had “private obligations” that were unable to be rescheduled and added the meeting’s agenda didn’t include a request for Arntzen to speak.

However, a letter dated March 4 indicates lawmakers invited the superintendent to attend.

Lawmakers and Stutz went back-and-forth over how the agency was implementing 2023 education policies. The disagreements included laws about enforcing requirements to teach Native American culture and history, the rollout of charter schools and a summer literacy program.

Deputy Superintendent Stutz defended the agency’s performance and said he wouldn’t attribute any issues to staffing. But, Republican Rep. David Bedey of Hamilton disagreed.

“What’s underappreciated is the amount of turnover that goes on in OPI, which compounds the problem,” Bedey said.

The superintendent’s spokesperson, Brian O’Leary, said the agency is “working diligently” to implement the new legislation.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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