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Calling his biennial budget both ambitious and affordable, Gov. Steve Bullock on Thursday outlined his proposal to freeze college tuition and to invest more in the research and development taking place at Montana's universities.

Addressing the state Board of Regents at the University of Montana, Bullock said his budget also calls for investment in a new earlier childhood education program, growing dual enrollment, and improving campus facilities.

“We can’t expect our students to be equipped with the skills for the jobs of tomorrow when they’re in insufficient facilities,” he said. “Through these investments, we’re not only putting people to work, we’re making an investment in the future of Montana’s economy.”

Bullock lauded regents and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education for implementing performance-based funding and for launching new programs to train today’s workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.

“That speaks to your commitment to fiscal responsibility,” he said. “But it’s also your responsibility and commitment to ensure that every Montanan has the opportunity to access that promise of higher education.”

Bullock’s budget includes an investment in early childhood education and an expansion of the dual-enrollment program – an issue that came up numerous times Thursday.

Bullock said his budget also calls for a continued freeze on tuition. Tuition at the state’s four-year schools has been frozen for eight of the past 10 years, and 10 of the past 10 years at two-year colleges.

“When tuition increases, it’s a tax on working families,” Bullock said. “When a student is priced out of higher education, they have less earning potential throughout their life. When they’re priced out of higher education, the state suffers.”

He also touted proposals to increase funding for research and development at Montana and Montana State.

Investing now in education, he said, will pay dividends in the years ahead.

“Study after study shows that states that see long, sustained growth are those where the government, the education system and the private sector collaborate to support innovation,” Bullock said. “Those returns on investment are huge and long lasing.”

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