Montana Office of Public Instruction

Montana education officials announced Thursday that two task forces will develop guidance on how the state’s public schools can safely reopen their doors next fall.

As Montana’s public schools close out the school year, the state is turning its attention to the fall, when many districts are expected to welcome students back into their buildings one way or another.

Private school students could receive more educational services from public school districts as $41 million dollars in aid comes into Montana under the federal CARES Act. A technical change in how money flows into the state means public schools could increase the percentage of relief dollars going to non-public school students. 

It’s been six weeks since the coronavirus pandemic shifted Montana’s public school districts to remote and online learning, and some school counselors are struggling to check in with students. Counselors say the lack of daily face-to-face interactions may prevent some from getting the help they need.

This week, Gov. Steve Bullock is expected to outline how Montana’s schools could reopen.

Some schools are deciding to keep classes online for the remainder of the school year regardless of Bullock’s forthcoming plan, while others are waiting for the governor’s updated school closure order.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction is asking the public to comment on federal waivers for testing requirements and school performance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the waivers, Montana school districts aren’t required to hold standardized testing, won’t be graded on their students' performance and have greater flexibility in how they spend federal dollars.

Calls to the state child abuse and neglect hotline have dropped by about half since schools closed their doors in mid-March due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services said the hotline received a little over half of the roughly 760 weekly calls it normally received before schools were ordered on March 15 to close their doors.

Montana’s public schools could receive about $41 million from the federal stimulus package Congress passed last week. Schools will have a lot of flexibility on how they can spend that money.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock says school districts won’t need to make up any in-person instructional time missed during the two-week statewide closure he ordered Sunday. Local school boards will, however, need to approve plans for remote learning and other services to maintain state funding if the closures are extended.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction is asking Gov. Steve Bullock and the federal government to waive requirements for standardized testing and instructional time. The request comes days into the governor’s two-week public school closure order in response to the novel coronavirus.

Even as Montana's public K-12 schools sit closed over coronavirus concerns, work on the school system continues. Newly released data from the state of Montana provides a picture of just how much it costs to educate the state's students.

Released this week, the state's "report card" shows it cost an average of $10,474.64 to educate each student in the public school system last year. The actual cost varies depending on districts or schools.

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