Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Montana’s public schools are now fully funded after the state legislature approved House Bill 15, the funding mechanism for state school systems.

KGVO News spoke to Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Elsie Arntzen on Thursday who spoke to us from a pullout on top of Bozeman Pass. She was returning from a photo opportunity at Smith Elementary School in Helena along with Governor Greg Gianforte and other state and local education officials.

Montanans Support Public Schools with $2 Billion a Year

“A promise is a promise and it was finally made, and I so appreciate that the legislature, the governor's office, and our schools recognize the great work of delivering over $2 billion to our public school system,” began Superintendent Arntzen.

Arntzen described where that over $2 billion would be spent throughout the state.

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Most of the $2 billion Goes to Pay Teacher's Salaries and Benefits

“We need to recognize that almost 90% of these $2 billion for the next two years, will be going to our teachers in order to pay for compensation,” she said. “You need to have that great teacher in front of that classroom, so today, we were in a kindergarten classroom at Smith Elementary in Helena, with a big shout out to Miss Hasselbeck, the teacher with all these kids and we high-fived quite a few of these young children. And let me tell you, after dealing with the legislature, those kindergarteners were just delightful.”

Arntzen described the public school funding formula, sending all that money to over 400 school districts throughout the state.

“There is a funding formula, and it pretty much stands on the number of students that walk through that classroom door,” she said. “And then there are other components that have come around since lawsuits. This funding formula has been around for about 20 years. We have a decentennial study that we'll be looking at in 2025 to see if we follow the Constitution of equality and that there is an equal opportunity for everyone to be given.”

Arntzen said the funding is determined by the total number of students in Montana’s public schools and then distributed to the hundreds of small, medium, and large school districts.

There was a Photo Opportunity at Smith Elementary in Helena with the Governor

“We count our children in the fall and we count our children in the spring, then we take an average of those, and that average is what front loads for the next two years,” she said. “Then the county then goes ahead and levies these dollars against local taxpayers, and then we make sure that those 56 counties come up to the Department of Revenue, and then we have other taxes that are included to ensure that these $2 billion does get funded to our public schools.”

These state dollars will contribute approximately $2 billion during the next biennium to Montana schools’ general fund budgets.

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