With the passage of Senate Bill 175 recently, Montanans are closer than ever to a conversion in the way we talk and think about school funding:

• Away from talking exclusively about how much money and toward talking about funding and local flexibility for the purpose of improving student achievement.

• Away from over-reliance on centrally imposed, non-voted property taxes to fund our community schools and toward much-needed relief for, and empowerment and protection of, local taxpayers.

• Away from misplaced and inaccurate attacks on our public schools and public school teachers and administrators, and toward a recognition that our community schools are succeeding, improving, innovative, efficient and supported by voters who recognize value when they see it.

• Away from punitive, centralized, top-down labeling of schools as a proxy for accountability and toward empowerment of parents and educators, working collaboratively together, in providing true accountability through the use of data as a formative tool, to improve the performance of kids served by our community schools.

• Away from leaving volunteer elected trustees holding the bag with overly restrictive, centralized, one-size-fits-all policies handed down by the state with no role other than to administer what has been mandated, and toward a restoration of the trust in elected volunteer trustees as intended in the Montana Constitution.

Convincing some legislators to give up state control of these matters and hand power back to local communities has been no easy task and not all senators are comfortable with this significant shift away from centralized state control. One need only look at the 32-17 vote on Senate Bill 175 on third reading to realize that around a third of the Senate is not convinced that empowerment of local communities is a good thing. A growing bipartisan group of legislators from both parties are convinced, however, and are working hard to pass Senate Bill 175 in collaboration with the parents, teachers, trustees, administrators, school business officials and business groups that support this important legislation.

As the Montana Association of School Business Officials, MEA-MFT, Montana Rural Education Association, Montana Quality Education Coalition, Montana School Boards Association and School Administrators of Montana continue our work in articulating the essential truths regarding the great work of Montana’s public schools in the second half of the 2013 Legislative Session, our advocacy for Senate Bill 175 and its empowerment of local communities in supporting increased academic achievement of kids will be a centerpiece of our efforts.

Together with parents, taxpayers and businesses, we can make our great public schools even better. We encourage Montanans from all walks of life to help us in convincing legislators that the community ownership of our public schools that is integrated throughout SB175 will benefit the kids we serve and deserves their favorable consideration.

— Denise Ulberg is executive director of the Montana Association of School Business Officials; Eric Feaver is president of MEA-MFT; Dave Puyear is executive director of the Montana Rural Education Association; Mark Lambrecht is executive director of the Montana Quality Education Coalition; Kirk Miller is executive director of School Administrators of Montana; and Lance Melton is executive director of the Montana School Boards Association.

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