By Deb Courson Smith
Big Sky Connection

Change is in the air, with the back-to-school season underway in Montana. Parents and students are shopping for supplies, and teachers are prepping classrooms.

There will be some changes this year because of state education budget cuts, too. Laurel Middle School special education teacher Patty Muir says parents and students will see bigger class sizes, among other things.

“In my district, we have reduced our gifted and talented program, and we’ve also had to reduce our P.E. and health classes. It’s due to the reductions and the lack of resources and staffing that we have available to us this year.”

Next year may be an even bigger challenge for educators, when a $5 million cut in the state’s required inflation adjustment for schools takes effect. Muir, who is a member of MEA-MFT, says the budgetary pressures are the strongest she has felt in her 33 years of teaching.

“It’s not to say that it’s taking away the anticipation and the excitement of starting a new school year, it’s just to say that, already, the stress levels are extremely high.”

School funding was a contentious debate in the Montana Legislature this year, with MEA-MFT claiming legislators decided not to invest more in schools, even though money was available to do so – an argument now borne out by updated state revenue numbers from the Legislative Fiscal Division.