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HELENA – Eric Feaver, the leader of MEA-MFT, the union representing teachers and other public workers, says it’s no coincidence the entire public-education community is battling hard against school-choice bills this Legislature.

Together, they see a national movement bearing down on Montana, and feel it could ultimately damage a strong public-school system, which they see as vital to a rural state like Montana, he says.

For his part, Feaver says public schools are “the greatest institution this nation has ever created,” throwing all walks of life together to be educated, with public money.

Feaver’s union, associations for school boards, rural schools and school administrators, Gov. Steve Bullock and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau are presenting a united front against bills to use public funds or tax credits to help finance charter or private schools.

They argue the bills would divert money that could be spent on public schools, which are often under-funded.

School-choice advocates say that money is a mere fraction of the hundreds of millions of state dollars that finance public schools, and that most children will remain in public schools, regardless of school-choice options.

Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, the state group leading the charge on school-choice bills, says the public-school hierarchy simply can’t stand losing some control.

“I think it comes down to power and money,” he says. “They want as many kids in the school as they can, so they have the most revenue coming in. They want no one to leave the public schools, even if they’re not doing well in the public schools.”

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Feaver says it’s true that he doesn’t want the state to encourage kids to go to private or charter schools – but that power and money don’t have much to do with it.

Encouraging kids to leave the public system is “fragmenting” society, he says, with no guarantee it would help those kids.

“I hate to see any child leave our public schools,” Feaver says. “We’re all a part of the whole. The charter school movement breaks us up into cosmic parts, like we don’t belong to each other. … The whole purpose of (public education) is not just to teach math, or reading … but to educate us on how to live together, across the board.”

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