Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen was on Talk Back on Monday to answer questions from listeners about education matters in the state.

Arntzen was asked about how important parents have been in their children’s education during the pandemic.

“So when you've got a screen up and you've got, like 20 kindergarteners, and they're in a ZOOM class, you've got that parent that is so helpful,” said Arntzen. “That parent wants to make sure that there is a connection in a digital world, and so parents really have stepped up to the plate just as much as our students have.”

Arntzen said because the ACT is not being utilized this year due to COVID that colleges and universities in Montana have been adapting to help students enter higher education.

“There are letters that are going out from all of our university system and our satellites to brick and mortar schools at this point and our tribal colleges as well,” she said. “We also know that the ACT which is used for a college entrance in the past is no longer there, so in other words, there is not a barrier to get into college.”

Arntzen listed a number of public and elected officials who have expressed written support for Arntzen’s unsuccessful effort to ask the U.S. Department of Education not to require the national standardized testing, however, Montana’s senior Senator never responded.

“He was a former public school teacher,” she said. “I haven't heard anything from him throughout the pandemic. But most recently we reached out to him about pausing these federally mandated assessments, and more importantly, replacing them with that local assessment, because to me, that's where the learning takes place. But I haven't heard anything. We've been talking to his staff and they are responding, but I really would like to get a conversation with Senator Tester.”

Arntzen also acknowledged the federal monies just allocated to Montana from ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act, and where it would be spent.

“We are just encouraging the legislature to ship the dollars as quickly as possible to us and then we'll be very carefully distributing them,” she said. “They have until 2023 to spend all of these dollars and in the federal government, they also give you another year in order to be able to spend them. I normally send out $800 million of precious tax dollars annually to schools, so with the ARPA funds, this is more than a half a billion dollars going out to our public schools at this point.”

Arntzen was a former elementary school teacher before she became a state legislator and is now the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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