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U.S. House candidate Ryan Zinke offers his ideas on veterans issues in front of the Capitol in Helena in August.

THOM BRIDGE/Independent Record

HELENA – Republican U.S. House candidate Ryan Zinke on Friday outlined his priorities for education, saying states, rather than the federal government, should dictate school standards, and have more flexibility in using federal education money.

“I don’t have a problem with standards,” he said. “But states should have more say in developing standards, rather than a one-size-fits-all.”

In Montana, the state Board of Public Education authorized the new “common core” standards for K-12 schools, and local school districts are implementing them.

Zinke said he’s not opposing the sometimes controversial common-core standards, but said local districts should have more say on how the standards are implemented.

However, he said he objects to the Obama administration restricting $3.4 billion in federal grants to states that have adopted common core, essentially creating a national standard.

“I think we (in the states) can do a better job of making sure that our education meets standards,” Zinke said.

He also said he supports federal Pell grants for college students, and that student loans, whether offered by the federal government or private institutions, should be kept at the lowest possible interest rate.

Zinke, a retired Navy officer, is running for Montana’s open U.S. House seat against Democrat John Lewis of Helena and Libertarian Mike Fellows of Missoula. Lewis is a former top staffer for retired U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Montana Democratic Party spokesman Bryan Watt on Friday called Zinke’s education plan a “political stunt,” and said that Zinke has a record of voting against or opposing state and federal education funding.

He pointed to Zinke’s opposition to a 2013 federal budget agreement that included billions of dollars for education programs, and said Zinke voted as a state senator in 2011 for a budget that included less state money for schools and the university system than was requested by Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Zinke said any claim that he didn’t support education funding at the 2011 Legislature is “political bunk.”

“Nobody fought harder for funding of education than me,” he said in an interview Friday.

Zinke sponsored the bill that became the major K-12 school-funding vehicle at the 2011 Legislature. The measure slightly increased state funding for public schools over two years, but at a level below what the governor sought.

Zinke also said he opposed the 2013 federal budget deal because it was a short-term solution to the budget.

Regarding Pell grants, Zinke said perhaps they should be targeted for students studying “in-demand” skills that pay well, such as welding or other trades.

“We should direct (students) to the curriculum that will result in a job that we need,” he said.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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