Heenan: On the road and at home, public education rules Montana’s economy

John Heenan 

I know it. Most Montanans know it. At its core, the strength of Montana’s economy and our way of life relies on the power of a strong public education system. Nowhere is that more clear than on a road trip in Montana. Here is my most recent road trip story.

At Miles Community College, I heard story after story of students attending agriculture programs and then going back to the family farm to substantially increase the farm’s productivity through techniques learned in school. Young Montanans can earn two-year degree by age 20 and then they’re instantly making upwards of $40,000 per year working trade or skilled jobs.

Miles Community College has a truck driver training program that takes only a couple weeks to earn CDL certification. As a guy that helped pay for college by driving a truck, I know that’s a job that pays well by the mile if you’re willing to work hard over long hours. Because of the bureaucracy of the federal student loan program, the school is out of reach for so many people. They are willing to work hard, but cannot afford the training.

In Glendive, at Dawson Community College, students are invited to partake in incredible welding and corrosion programs—the corrosion program being unique to the state. These schools are training young people for jobs that are here in Montana, right now, that will provide a good paycheck.

Back at home, my wife Meagen and I have been sending our children to the Billings public school across the street from our house for nearly ten years, and we’ll be continuing to send them to Montana public schools for even longer.

Up the street at the Billings Career Center, students are building entire houses, which are then sold at the end of the academic year. Mechanics classes are rebuilding a car bumper to bumper. Students in one class were even learning how to suture a wound. These programs are designed to help graduates prepare, whether they enter the workforce with job-ready skills, or with a solid foundation for their next phase of schooling, these public school programs are prime examples of what public education can and should be in the 21st Century economy.

I recently visited a government class at Billings West High School and it was inspiring; teenagers spoke up about their enthusiasm for leadership and civics, engaging me with thoughtful questions, perpetual inquiry.The young people in our state are truly critical thinkers.

Yet, schools are constantly under threat, asked to do more with less.

Support for public education is not a partisan issue. It’s just good economic policy. When we invest in our schools, we invest in our children, and we make sure they are equipped for the jobs which employers in our great state need filled. We are building our tax base and ensuring continued economic growth in our communities. Rather than give tax cuts to billionaires and corporations, we could be using this money to invest in Montana and our future.

Young Montanans can earn an excellent education within a field that they are able to walk out the door and into a good paying job in our state, grow our economy and grow our tax base, and thrive.

As your next U.S. Congressman, I will expand taxpayer funding of quality public education, particularly trade and vocational skills. It is an important, wise investment. Not a single student should be deprived of the ability to get certified as a welder, or in heavy equipment operations, or for diesel repair because they cannot afford the tuition.

The secret to reinvigorating Montana’s economy is no secret at all. We must invest in our young people, Montana’s next generations.

John Heenan is Billings resident and a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Montana.