The Wednesday after election night, I didn’t go to work until noon – anticipating a long night of waiting for results, I had arranged to take the morning off. When I got to work, Jon Tester already had a pretty solid lead of Denny Rehberg, but the two races most important to my co-workers were still too close to call – the Governor, and the Superintendent. When they called for Bullock, there was a wide sigh of relief – we stayed on edge about Juneau a bit longer. Was I, along with my co-workers, merely trapped in a manipulative two-party framing device? Are we all low-information voters for thinking that who the Governor is makes a difference?
Not even close. With Schweitzer having released his last biennial budget, which sets out another 2 years of funding increases for education, it’s a good time to look back at the party that has looked out for Montana education for eight years, and note their results. First, lets compare the Governor’s budget to the last one implemented by Judy Martz. The two budget’s are relatively representative of what our education system experienced under the two governors. Now, a governor obviously doesn’t control the economy they inherit, but the fact is that Montana’s economy was growing at the same time Martz was cutting the education budget.
Those whose jobs (and generally, expertise) do not involve education may respond that Schweitzer was just throwing money at schools, assuring public employees voted for him without achieving any real impact on education. I would refer them to this page, which includes a lovely chart showing Montana’s No Child Left Behind progress (as well as charts detailing the improvement in teaching salaries). Admittedly, NCLB is an imperfect measure, but it has the virtue of being consistent. And it shows that Montana’s proficiency levels consistently dropped every year from 2000 to 2004 and consistently increased every year after that, a trend that has continued through the most recent data, which also shows a continued increase since Denise Juneau was elected. With Bullock and Juneau (fingers crossed) leading us forward the next four years, we can expect to have even more educational success.