Public education is foundational to a functional democracy. It’s also the means by which young people increase their earning potential and contributes to health and happiness. An educated workforce is the best means to keep the country on-track economically and compete in the global marketplace. However, many Montanans struggle to achieve their educational goals.

When I was a college-aged adult, an ambitious person with a good summer job and some support from family could graduate from one of our state universities without taking on student loans. Today, a college education is beyond the means of many Montana families without the burden of excessive debt. Support for college students, directed toward institutions committed to affordable education, is a terrific public investment, be it trade and technical education or a traditional college degree.

Supporting rural education is another issue for Montana and other states with substantial agricultural populations. Rural communities face significant obstacles in providing quality education for their children. In many places, facilities are old, energy inefficient and badly needing updates or replacement. Farming and ranching communities have a difficult time recruiting and retaining teachers as their salaries are typically much lower than their urban counterparts. With small tax bases and sometimes declining populations, meeting these financial challenges at the local level is impossible.

We need to look at innovative ways to support rural education at the federal level. Part of keeping families in agriculture is providing rural kids with a quality education. That’s the least we can do for the folks who keep food on our tables.

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