Montana Public Radio

Dylan Klapmeier

Empty school classroom
iStock

Public school enrollment declined slightly this fall while the number of homeschooled students in Montana spiked.  State education officials released the new data Wednesday.

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

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.

Lockers in an empty school hallway.
PD

Public school students in Montana may miss out on roughly $800,000 in federal aid for laptops, masks and educational services amid the coronavirus pandemic. That’s according to a calculation from state education officials after the U.S. Department of Education’s plan for sharing emergency aid with private and home schools was thrown out in court.

Private school students could receive more educational services from public school districts as $41 million dollars in aid comes into Montana under the federal CARES Act. A technical change in how money flows into the state means public schools could increase the percentage of relief dollars going to non-public school students. 

Columbia Falls School District staff deliver free breakfast and lunch to students just outside of town Wednesday, April 8. The district is providing free meals to any child 18 and younger under a federally funded program it typically uses in the summer.
Aaron Bolton / Montana Public Radio

Many parents of public school students across the state are struggling with reduced pay or unemployment amid the coronavirus pandemic. School officials say that’s contributing to a spike in demand for free meals from school districts. In order to provide some relief, the federal government and the state are allowing more districts to use a program that nomally provides free meals to children in the summer.

Montana’s public schools could receive about $41 million from the federal stimulus package Congress passed last week. Schools will have a lot of flexibility on how they can spend that money.

Stevensville High School.
Stevensville Public Schools

Even as Montana's public K-12 schools sit closed over coronavirus concerns, work on the school system continues. Newly released data from the state of Montana provides a picture of just how much it costs to educate the state's students.

Released this week, the state's "report card" shows it cost an average of $10,474.64 to educate each student in the public school system last year. The actual cost varies depending on districts or schools.

CDC School closure decision tree.
Centers For Disease Control

Public K-12 schools across Montana sent out letters detailing their preparation for the coronavirus Friday following Gov. Steve Bullock’s state of emergency declaration Thursday.

Officials are telling schools to create a plan for potential closures and remote learning. After this story published, Gov. Bullock announced that four cases of the novel coronavirus have tested presumptively positive in Montana.

School hallway.
iStock

The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to delay a new rule that could pull significant funding from rural and low-income schools in Montana. The delay follows objections this week from Montana’s U.S. Senators and other high ranking members of Congress.

On Monday morning, Billings received another in a recent string of school-related threats. The incident is one of several this year that will factor into a federal database in 2021.

Pages