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Billings trustee, state superintendent discuss funding for HB 233 changes

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Posted at 3:45 PM, Apr 07, 2022

BILLINGS - The Billings school board is now moving along with plans to let Emily Pennington, a West High student with special needs, graduate despite her being over the age limit of 19.

For the school board it's a decision that may cost the taxpayers.

A lot of people are showing support for Emily Pennington to graduate and that could happen through Montana House Bill 233, which provides funding for special needs students.

The estimates of the number of students and the cost vary.

A School District 2 board member Mike Leo and State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen (R-Mont.) talked about that funding.

The school board special meetings have addressed Pennington's desire to finish school after she turns 19.

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Some of the school board has stated they may change that policy to allow that for Emily and other students that can be helped through House Bill 233.

Last week, Superintendent Greg Upham and others in the Billings Public Schools explained how this might work.

Upham stated with an estimated 62 students, the school district faces an estimated deficit of $1.125 million.

But according to others, those numbers are projections.

"Any additional actual costs are big unknowns," Leo said.

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KTVQ photo

Leo said there are different ways a possible deficit would be paid.

"The legislature gave us a mechanism by which we can take all of the costs that are not covered by state and federal funding and move those to a local taxpayer base to pay on an annual basis," he said.

Leo said at this point, it's just an option.

Arntzen was among those addressing the board during public comment last week and talked with MTN News on Wednesday.

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KTVQ photo

"There's federal funding that supports these children and these students," Arntzen said. "There's also general fund dollars that support these students as well. But there's also general fund taxpayer dollars that supports all children."

And while there is federal and state funding, they say it's important it is a local decision.

"We can guide them, but ultimately we need to trust our trustees to do the right thing," Arntzen said.

"I'm hoping that we can bring that to an end and finalize it in the next few weeks," Leo said.

Leo expects the board to consider the policy change at its April 18 meeting.