Steve Bullock sworn-in as Montana’s 24th Governor

courtesy Jackie Yamanaka

courtesy Jackie Yamanaka

Montana has a new Governor.

Democrat Steve Bullock was sworn into the state’s top job Monday, succeeding Governor Brian Schweitzer.

Bullock is setting a tone of cooperation at the beginning of his term.

“We’ll continue to grow our economy, foster 21st Century Industries and create jobs that didn’t even exist when we were children,” Montana’s new Governor, Steve Bullock, said Monday morning.

Onlookers gathered on the cold Helena morning to watch the transfer of power. The inauguration of a new governor, on the north steps of the state capitol building.

It was a ceremony beginning and ending with the voices of children, elementary students from Helena’s Central School.

Outgoing Governor Brian Schweitzer took the podium in a long green trench coat  to congratulate Steve Bullock and his family.

“I…know that Steve Bullock, Governor Steve Bullock knows that the government’s for the last and the least. The first and the most, you’ll make your own way,” he said.

Seven Statewide elected officials took the oath of office administered by Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath: Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris, Attorney General Tim Fox, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau,  State Auditor Monica Lindeen, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, Lieutenant Governor John Walsh, and Governor Steve Bullock.

“It’s extremely humbling to stand before you as the 24th Governor of the state of Montana,” Bullock said, adding his cabinet and staff have been granted an incredible opportunity by the voters,“the opportunity to make our state an even better place to live, an even better place to work to build a business, an even better place to raise a family.”

Bullock says he’s excited to work with a group of lawmakers as diverse as the landscape of Montana.

“To the members of the 63rd Legislature, welcome,” Bullock said.

He asked the Legislature to work not necessarily for the good of their party, but for the voters.

“They won’t measure our success by political points scored or zingers flung out on the front page of the newspaper,” he said. “I look forward to working with each and every one of you.”

And with that a man who grew up just a few blocks away from the Capitol building began his new job.

OPI looking to Legislature for $1.5 million in additional funding for MT Digital Academy

The various departments of State Government are ready to line up for their piece of Montana’s nearly $500 million dollar budget surplus. Lawmakers convene the 2013 Legislative Session next Monday. Over the next few months, the Legislature will decide how to spend that surplus, if they want to spend it at all.

A top legislative priority for the office of Public Instruction, increased funding for the Montana Digital Academy.

State Lawmakers created the Montana Digital Academy in 2009.

“Montana Schools have access to a public online course delivery system,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau. The academy allows students to take courses not currently offered at their school, or to retake a core class they may have failed in order to graduate on time. It allows students in Montana’s most rural areas to choose from a much wider selection of courses then they had previously.

Public school teachers teach the online courses. Superintendent Juneau brings up a friend who teaches a digital academy course in the far Western Montana town of Arlee.

“She reaches students over in Culbertson, over in Wibaux and those types of areas,” she said. Both places are in far eastern Montana.  “But her reach in that course is all across this state.”

The Digital Academy has been considerably more successful than originally expected. Its first trial year in 2009 saw about 500 enrollments, which means 500 courses were taken.

Juneau says in 2012 there were 6800 enrollments from over 3,000 students.

That number of enrollments is expected to top 10-thousand by the start of next school year. 97 percent of Montana high schools offer the classes, up from 67 percent in 2009. Junior High Schools have started joining in.

Superintendent Juneau is looking for $1.5 million in additional funds for the academy. It receives $2.3 million now. She says the money would allow for greater enrollment.

“Billings schools is not even online yet,” she said, “and so once those high schools get involved, we’re gonna see a lot more growth.”

Juneau says she wants to keep the Digital Academy a consistent presence across the Public school system, offered free to students.

“The minute we have to cap enrollment, or have schools pay to have to offer these courses during their school day, it becomes more of a hardship.”

Of her top legislative priorities, Juneau thinks getting extra funding for the Digital Academy has the greatest chance of passing. She calls the academy a success story from the state legislature, one which passed with wide bi-partisan support. She believes an extra $1.5 million is not that much to keep expanding that success.

But there will be a lot of competition for those dollars.

Campaign Beat Nov 9 – Sally, Chuck and Mike give their final thoughts on the 2012 election…

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk, Mike Dennison

On this final edition of “Campaign Beat”, our weekly political analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about who won, who lost, and what happens next…



OPI receives $4 million grant to connect K12 and MUS data

The Montana Office of Public Instruction is receiving a $4 million dollar federal grant.The money will be used to consolidate student performance data collected at the K12 level with that collected at the College level.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau says her office received the 3-year $4 million dollar grant last week. She says the money will create a new system to digitize the report cards of Montana students, from Kindergarten to College.

” (To) provide electronic transcripts, particularly for those kids that are in High School so they’ll have the coursework they took. They’ll be able to make an easy transition into Montana colleges,” Juneau said.

She says data systems like this are expensive and the Office of Public Instruction needs the Federal Money to get it done. Once the statewide system is operating, schools will be able to look if classes are effectively preparing students for Post-Secondary Education.

“The idea of a certain percentage of our students need to be remediated once they graduate from High School and step into college,” she said. “We want to decrease those rates, decrease the rates of students having to take developmental math and developmental writing. So this will help us understand what they’re lacking in their High School career and move forward with trying to beef that up.”

Juneau says the program will walk a fine line between giving an accurate picture of student success and protecting that student’s privacy.

“Every student in this state has a student identifier number. And so we do, from the time they enter public school in kindergarten we follow them through their k12 system,” she said.

And yes, that student’s local school district closely follows that student’s particular progress. At the state level, Juneau says that data is all rolled together.

“Schools will be able to look at their student by student data and see what type of coursework is being offered and see whether that algebra class was effective for example. What we’ll be able to do is say 78 percent of students took Algebra 2,” Juneau said.

And when that 78 percent takes Algebra 2, what is their success rate?—did they have to take remedial math in college?

There is a national group that looks at the Data Systems of Schools. It’s called the Data Quality Campaign. Montana usually ranks pretty poorly, because Juneau says the state hasn’t had the money to build what the Campaign was looking for.

A lot of other states have these consolidated student data systems.

“This system gets up and running and we’re hoping that we will perform better once we see those results at the National level,” she said.

Montana’s system linking the data of K12 schools and the data of the Montana University System is expected to be completed in June of 2015.