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Starting from behind: Montana’s students face academic challenges from the start


August 12, 2019
Cameron Evans
Fairfield Sun Times

Students entering the Montana University System are already behind, with only 33% achieving the required minimum ACT score of 22, according to state data from the 2017–2018 school year.

But the achievement gap for students starts at an early age in Montana — one of fewer than 10 states without a permanent publicly funded preschool program — despite data that show preschool is an important indicator for later academic success, as well as social and emotional development.

In 2017, Montana looked one step closer to having public preschool. But despite a concerted push from Gov. Steve Bullock, results from a pilot program that showed gaps closing, and testimony from educators, lawmakers backed away from funding the program in the 2019 legislative session.

The state’s top public schools official also did not support a bill that would have authorized public preschool. Montana Superintendent Elsie Arntzen maintains that K-12 schools should be fully funded before adding preschool, according to Office of Public Instruction spokesman Dylan Klapmeier.