Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen said on Tuesday that she testified in support of HB 25, a bill that would rectify decades of unequal education services for students in residential psychiatric treatment facilities.

Due to the unintended consequences of a poorly written law years ago, Montana youth receiving Medicaid placed at Montana facilities such Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch and Shodair were barred from receiving funding from the Office of Public Instruction for educational services.

“We are talking about close to $700,000 annually being spent on education for these children right now,” said Arntzen. “If they are in a day treatment program, their education services are being paid by the state. If they go out of state and they are still a resident of Montana, the state follows with those dollars but for some reason with the Department of Health and Human Services, they did not want to pay for those in-state treatment children.”

Arntzen said HB 25 will help to rectify a situation that goes back over 30 years.

“You know, technology was totally different back then,” she said. “Now it is so much more at ease and more nimble. So it took us some time to go back, and then there is legislative intent; what did the Legislature mean 30 years ago and what does it mean today? So I believe right now what we're offering is language that's very relevant. Language that is an understanding between all school districts, whether you're very rural, or if you come out of a double AA district in Montana.”

Arntzen said the Legislature put a priority on passing this bill, so that these students in resident facilities will have the proper public education.

“We know there are 3,100 opportunities to change our current law, and this bill number is 25,” she said. “So it took priority and it's already been heard. Now it will move its way through to the Appropriations Committee because these are our precious tax dollars. Then it will be moving into the Senate, and then hopefully it will have a great life span and reach Governor Gianforte’s desk for his signature.”

Arntzen said the extra effort was worth the reward for those students.

“We have worked and crafted this information along with legislators, and to be sure, this is not a political discussion. This is a constitutional discussion that we need to have to make sure that all of our students receive those precious tax dollars to further their opportunities in school.”

 

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