Montana Public Radio

Elsie Arntzen: 2020 General Election Q&A

Oct 9, 2020

Montana Public Radio is gathering information on all statewide general election candidates to publish as a resource for our audience. We asked all the statewide candidates to respond to the following questions via email, limiting their answers to 150 words per question. These are their unedited responses.

Elsie Arntzen is the 2020 Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction.

What makes you the best candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction and how do you stand out from your opponent(s)? 

I was a public school teacher for 23 years and a conservative legislator of 12 years, before Montanans elected me as their State Superintendent in 2016. As Superintendent of Public Instruction, I have championed four key initiatives. The initiatives are:

- Montana Hope: focusing on student mental health.

- Montana Teach and Montana Learn: centering on setting and helping teachers and students with achievable educational goals.

- Montana Ready: the program to provide students with the skills necessary to succeed in college as well as in careers in small business, trade industries, the military and post-secondary partnerships. 

I partnered with our Legislature to fully fund Montana's public K-12 schools and advanced legislation to enhance student safety. I provided Montana's schools and families with precious resources for safely reopening schools. I also championed local control, reduced regulatory burdens and strengthened partnerships.

What experience do you have in the education system?

I lead with my 23 years of experience as a public school teacher, as well as 12 years in the Montana legislature. My positive voice and strong relationships make me uniquely qualified to serve as State Superintendent and I am honored to serve Montana in this role each and every day. I am running to provide continued stable leadership in the face of unprecedented challenges to education. 

As a 4th generation Montanan who was born and raised in the Yellowstone County area, my Montana roots go deep. Both of my parents were public school teachers and I am a product of Montana’s public school system. I earned a degree in Economics from the University of Montana and an Education degree from MSU. I am proud that my grandchildren are receiving an education from the same public school I attended. I work every day to guarantee all Montana students have every opportunity to succeed. 

What are your three top goals to accomplish as Superintendent of Public Instruction and how would you achieve them? 

I will strengthen Montana’s education system that advances student success by reducing outdated regulations and promotes student focused learning. My initiatives seek to serve every student and provide them a safe learning environment from a highly qualified teacher-leader. I am a firm believer that every student can succeed, and it is my job to build a path for their choice in opportunities.

I will continue building on my record of success to keeping students safe, ensuring that schools have the resources that they need to be a safe environment during this pandemic, and that students have the social-emotional and mental health support that they need.

Additionally, I will maintain my focus on Career and Technical Education so that students are equipped with the skills to be successful after high school. I will also continue ensuring that academic achievement continues to grow and that achievement gaps close.

The superintendent of public instruction is one of five statewide elected officials that sits on the state Land Board, which manages state trust lands. What are your priorities for managing these lands? 

We are the Treasure State and as State Superintendent some of my most basic and cherished responsibilities belong to our students and their families as well as to our lands. During my first term at the OPI, we have established a culture of putting students and their educational needs first. Our children are one of our state’s greatest treasures and ensuring their future is bright, no matter what pathway they choose, is of primary importance. 

My seat on the Land Board is also very significant. Maintaining the proper and transparent balance between maximizing revenues for schools and preserving our great public lands is a task I look forward to continuing. I have prioritized school funding, public access to state lands, resource development, and transparency. I will continue ensuring that Montana's State Trust Lands produce robust funding for our public schools while encouraging public access to lands.

What should the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s role be in guiding policies and advice for K-12 schools during the coronavirus pandemic? 

It is important that the Office of Public Instruction’s education experts be given adequate opportunity to lend their valuable experience and guidance in how our State responds to any health crisis. Throughout this pandemic, I have consistently advocated for flexibility for families and schools. I successfully received waivers to provide schools and students some flexibility as learning transitioned from in the classroom to the kitchen table. I provided Montana's schools and families with precious resources and dollars for safely reopening schools. I have championed local control, reduced regulatory burdens, strengthened partnerships, and ensured that Montana was one of the first states in the country to secure timely COVID relief. I also created two task forces comprised of over 100 Montana voices that issued timely school reopening guidance.

Do you agree with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down part of a Montana tax credit program that excluded private religious schools? Why or why not? 

I have always been a strong proponent of fully funding our public schools and I have successfully secured this funding as Superintendent. I have also expanded partnerships between Montana's public school, private schools, and homeschool families. Montana children move throughout various education systems and we must all work together to ensure that the best education for each individual student is supported. A tax credit is a pre-tax dollar, as many exist in Montana law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that a publicly available tax credit can't discriminate against families who choose to send their children to private religious schools.

What other issues are important to your campaign? (300 word limit) 

I am a proud Montana parent and grandparent. My positive approach to leadership is based on building relationships, my experience in the classroom, and successes in the legislature provided the promise state budget to schools. My entire team at the OPI has a goal of putting students first by increasing more flexibilities and strengthening our state teacher and learning standards. My leadership will provide stability that is so greatly needed in our schools and our communities, especially in this time as we rebuild our economy. I believe Montana has a bright future and our students deserve plentiful opportunities to succeed in the coming years. Over the next four years, I will work to give our children every chance possible to reach their full potential.