By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – The House Education Committee consider a bill Monday that would allow schools to get state funding for 5-year-olds and for students with disabilities up to age 21.

House Bill 274 would change the Average Number Belongs (ANB) calculations, which is how the state divides money among school districts. Current statute only funds students ages 6 through 19.

Eric Feaver, president of the public employee labor union MEA-MFT, supports the bill.

The Montana Capitol Rotunda
The Montana Capitol Rotunda

“We are apparently one of the only states in the Union that does not provide for this circumstance and we ought to correct that issue,” Feaver said.

He said it’s important to educate students with disabilities up until the age of 22 if they do not meet the requirements to graduate from their school districts. Feaver also said the age is an arbitrary number, but it’s an established standard nationwide for funding these students.

“A special needs student reaches age 18 today in a school district in Montana, the district can -- and usually probably will -- say, ‘Well, we’ll see you around,’ regardless of whether we have completed their efforts toward high school,” Feaver said.

Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, is the sponsor of the bill.

She said programs that do provide services for the students figure out how to fund their program locally. But she said there are still a lot of districts that do not provide the program because of funding.

“It’s a huge problem for families who have kids with very severe disabilities. These are children who -- all the way through their schooling -- would have been in practical kinds of skill training and trying to prepare them to do as much for themselves as they can,” Kelker said.

The bill is estimated to cost the state a little more than $300,000 over the next two years. That’s a small price to pay, Feaver said.

“I think schools have an obligation to see that we do the best we can, at least up to age 22,” Feaver said.