1. What knowledge and skills do you think kids need to succeed in the 21st century? What can you do as a legislator to make sure local schools deliver these outcomes?

Today’s kids are learners in a rapidly changing, fast-paced, and often unstable world. Their skills need to beyond basic reading and arithmetic while still having a solid base in those areas. Because learning is now considered a life-long expectation, they have to learn to be strong learners in a variety of modalities. Their understanding of math, science and the arts will have to be balanced with interpersonal skill and emotional and ethical awareness.

Our job as legislators is to provide teachers and school districts with what they need most: funding. Then we should get out of the way. Educators are trained to teach, and today’s educators are already adapting curriculum to prepare youth for the unpredictable future. I don’t know a single educator or district who says: “our goal is to produce mediocre learners, minimal skill, and adequate communication skills.” So as a legislator, I will advocate for funding, ensuring that it reflects the behavioral needs of today’s classroom and provides for continuing education for faculty to stay informed on evidence-based learning curriculum.

2. What can the state legislature do to ensure districts can attract and retain good teachers, meet accreditation standards and federal mandates, and prepare students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century?

Attracting and retaining good teachers, meeting accreditation standards, federal requirements, AND preparing students today for the unknown tomorrow requires school districts to have adequate funding-not always having bare-minimum funding. Teacher retention requires aligning teacher’s wages with the regional norms, providing a healthy, safe environment for teaching, and allowing teachers to have control to implement the curriculum needed to meet standards and requirements. Teachers who are ‘burning out’ can often be reinvigorated, but the school districts need creative tools to assess for burn-out, and to inspire best performances.

3. What priority will you place as a legislator on providing appropriate educational programs for students with disability and other special populations such as gifted students, at-risk students and students in poverty?

The U.S. Department of Education’s motto is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

It is my duty as a legislator to advocate for and fund education at all levels and access for all abilities. I firmly believe this is a crucial priority for the legislature.

4. Given the risk of school shootings and other violent acts committed on school properties, what can and should our elected officials do to ensure the safety of the students and teachers in our schools?

School shootings have been an increasing problem in highly populated areas. We are not invincible, and it is prudent of our school system and law enforcement to work together for the safety of students. When implemented, safety plans save lives. Early warning intervention is crucial. In most cases of mass school shootings, there have been warning signs about the individual’s risks noted by family members, friends, or neighbors, and often those concerns were shared with school leaders and law enforcement. Our elected officials are usually not experts in the prevention of gun violence. We must work with our law enforcement to ensure that schools have adequate safety plans, that ‘early warnings’ are attended to efficiently, and that school resource officers are in place and supported in protecting our schools.

5. What is your position on school choice and vouchers or tax credits for private and parochial schools in Montana?

This is a topic that often invokes an emotional response. Either for or against. Public education is funded by the public. Private and parochial schools are not public education. I have children who have attended public and children who have attended parochial schools. It was not the general taxpayer’s responsibility to pay or help pay for tuition at the parochial schools-it was mine and, when needed, the church’s. For those who say “but I pay taxes, it should go where I want it to go,” my response is that we all pay into the public school system, and that money is accounted for transparently. Using tax dollars for private schooling is not transparently accounted for, and blurs the line of government and religion. This is why this issue is still being debated in the courts.

Even when parents utilize a private school, many of the services for their child are still accessible from the public school system. For example, a child with an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, can attend private school but yet access speech therapy or other special education services through their school district. Therefore these funds, logically, must remain in the public schools and not used to subsidize private education and personal school choice.

6. How should the state contribute to much-needed funding for aging school facilities, infrastructure, and outdated technology needs in our schools?

To create and implement spending plans that meet the specific needs of aging school facilities, infrastructure and outdated technology needs, funding will need to be allocated. A thorough analysis of the needs, including the maintenance that has been routinely deferred and a plan for updating tech and infrastructure are crucial. Let’s remember, there was a school district who ignored issues such as lead pipes that is now paying dearly in many ways for exposing children to lead. We need to be transparent in needs, in funding resources, and creative in new revenue streams to attend to what has too-long been ignored.

We have to realize that students need infrastructure to succeed. The condition of the physical environment influences student academic success. This can make a 10% increase in student performance on standardized testing. This may just sound like a statistic, but I know I want my engineers, architects, carpenters, pharmacist, doctors and nurses to have had that extra 10% in their math scores! We build successful societies through education.

7. Currently the school district takes advantage of funding provided by non-school district sources to provide food programs for hungry students and affordable and convenient access to health care.  Do you support such programs? Why or why not?

Resources are resources. Accessing other programs to help students succeed is necessary for today’s complex students and budget shortfalls.