MTPR

Montana Lawmakers Reject Bill To Publicly Fund Preschool

Mar 28, 2019

A state-funded preschool program has been rejected by Montana lawmakers. The state remains among only a few in the country without publicly funded pre-K.

House Bill 755 was tabled on a 9-8 vote hours after its first hearing, Wednesday.

The vote derails the Republican bill backed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to send $11 million to public, private and Head Start preschools in the state.

House Bill 755, carried by Rep. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, would have also created a new department of early childhood, led by a governor appointee.

Gov. Bullock’s Education Policy Advisor Siri Smillie says the proposal was different than the preschool policy offered from the governor, but still accomplished some of the same goals.

“Most importantly it provides access to voluntary high-quality preschool for about 3,500 4-year-olds across the state.”

The proposal drew criticism from public education advocates and labor groups that represent public school teachers.

They objected to state money going to private preschool providers and said the bill included a possible constitutional conflict over the authority of the Board of Public Education, which oversees and accredits public schools.

The motion to effectively kill the bill came from Helena Democrat Moffie Funk.

“This is a huge bill, it has so many components. Lots of good ideas, lots of bad ideas, in my opinion. And to ask us to move on something this significant at this late date, I just don’t feel that I’m comfortable.”

The preschool bill faced a deadline Monday to pass out of the House.

Its rejection is a blow to one of the major goals of Gov. Bullock’s administration as he nears the end of his term in office. The 2017 Legislature approved a pilot preschool program and its funding will run out this year if not renewed by lawmakers.

Without a new proposal this session, Montana will remain one of about half dozen states in the country without a publicly funded pre-K system.