Gubernatorial Candidates: Steve Bullock (D), Rick Hill (R), Ron Vandevender (L)

I1) To what extent will you combat financial barriers (i.e. rising tuition) that students face in their pursuit of higher education?

BULLOCK: One part of my education plan is to use some of our state’s budget surplus to freeze tuition for the next two years. Beyond that, I plan to continue investing in public education to make sure all Montanans have the opportunity to prepare for the jobs of the future. My wife Lisa and I are sending our kids to the same public schools that we went to growing up in Montana, and I come from a family of public schoolteachers and administrators, so education is one of my top priorities. As your governor, I’ll ensure that our public universities and schools have the resources they need, and — unlike Congressman Hill — I’ll do it without linking education to uncertain and volatile sources of funding.

VANDEVENDER: I would like to impose a minimum four-year freeze on tuition rates to start out. [I would like to] work with state legislators to better fund our institutions for necessary things which should be covered by the state instead of tuition increases (buildings, utility use, modernizing for future needs).

2) Montana State University just completed a long-term strategic plan which includes calls for raising enrollment by 2,000, increasing faculty pay to 80 percent of the national average, priority budgeting and enhancing the student experience. What steps can Montana’s lawmakers take to assist in the pursuit of MSU’s goals?

BULLOCK: Education is one of my top priorities, and lawmakers can have a tremendous influence over the quality and affordability of public education. That’s why I’ll freeze tuition for the next two years. I can help MSU achieve its goals by giving it the confidence that comes with stable funding and political leadership that refuses to defund, dismantle or devalue public education. When he was in Congress, my opponent voted to cut $137 million from Montana schools. Congressman Hill’s public education budget — including MSU’s — depends upon speculation about natural gas markets. The right lawmakers can help MSU achieve higher enrollment, increased faculty pay and lower tuition, and I have the vision and commitment to public education to help you get there.

VANDEVENDER: I would have to look over the MSU plan in detail to be able to answer this. As for the steps the lawmakers could do, properly funding the basic needs of the school and outright making the investment to increase faculty and pay so we can reap the benefits now for the students and the future of the state would be guaranteed have-to moves. I don’t see how this is an optional situation for the state.

3) Are Montana’s universities spending student and public money efficiently?

BULLOCK: We can always do better, but last year we had the highest increase in the number of college graduates in the nation, and we now lead the nation in per capita college graduates. We’re near the top in the nation in high school graduation rates. Congressman Hill talks a lot about MSU students needing remedial math and reading. He’s trying to convince [people] that Montana’s public schools are failing. They aren’t. We’re working on programs that allow high school students to get more college credits, and we’re making it easier to transfer credits between programs. It’s always important to look for places to make things smoother and more efficient, but I’m proud of the Montana public education system: it’s where my wife Lisa and I come from, and it’s where we’re sending our kids.

VANDEVENDER: I’m pretty confident our university system is no different than any other branch of education, business or government where we most likely could use a little pencil sharpening so we could get better bang for the buck where spending is concerned. This isn’t to put down our universities’ spending habits; [it’s] just a simple trait that normally develops over time and has to be revisited every so often to correct.