I am writing in response to the Jan. 30 Missoulian article concerning Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau's resistance to apply for any of the $4.3 billion in federal Race to the Top money. The Race to the Top program involved the promotion of student achievement as well as the empowerment of families through the formation of charter schools. It is one of the few federal programs that has some degree of bipartisan support.
If a state wishes to qualify for the Race to the Top grant money it must make, or at least attempt to make, some constructive educational policy changes. According to the article, Juneau feels that no such effort should be made and she therefore has no plans to apply for these funds.
The article also mentions the role that Eric Feaver, the head of the Montana Teachers Association, has had in this decision. Feaver has stated that he has not talked to anyone who feels that Montana should accept the Race to the Top federal funds. This could be because Feaver refuses to engage in constructive dialogue with anyone who has opinions that differ from his.
I tried to discuss the subject of charter schools with him during a legislative session in Helena and was met with great hostility. Feaver seems to perceive any changes that empower families by means of choice as a great threat. Feaver also seems to have almost complete control over K-12 education policy in Montana.
Juneau claims that Montana has no need for the Race to the Top money yet she also states that budget cuts to the schools could result in an increase in property taxes.
It appears then that these federal funds will not be available to Montana as long as the state's public officials remain beholden to the Montana Education Association.
William Johnson, Missoula