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Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte Wins Montana Governor’s Race on Record of Supporting School Choice; Public Education Advocates Worry About Support for Private Schools

By Taylor Swaak | November 4, 2020

(Getty Images)

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney in the bid for Montana governor Tuesday night — a win many advocates fear threatens public schools due to Gianforte’s past record promoting private education.

Gianforte, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump, had 53.1 percent of the vote as of Wednesday morning, with most precincts reporting. Cooney had 43.1 percent.

Pre-Election Day, Montana’s governor’s race was considered the tightest of 11 state races. Gianforte will be the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years, giving Republicans control in both branches of the state legislature along with the governor’s mansion.

“It’s time for Helena [the state capital] to change the way they do business,” Gianforte said in a speech Tuesday night.

Cooney appeared the public schools candidate during the campaign, calling the education system the “backbone of our economy” and promoting ideas like publicly funded pre-kindergarten. Gianfortehas said his focus would also be on public schools because that’s where the “vast majority” of the state’s students are — about 90 percent.

Public school teachers, he’s added, “need to be paid more, particularly our starting teachers.” Montana in past years has offered among the lowest starting salaries nationwide.

But many advocates are wary that Gianforte’s past statements and actions prove he’s intent on expanding school choice.

One of the wealthiest members in Congress, Gianforte has funded private school scholarships and poured hundreds of thousands into a Montana group that promotes conservative values, religious freedom and school choice. His campaign platform also included permanently reducing property taxes, which help fund Montana’s public schools.

The Montana Federation of Public Employees, which represents the state’s public school educators, voted this spring to condemn his candidacy — something newly instated president Amanda Curtis said was never done before.

“He, I believe, will eliminate this union and privatize Montana education,” she said.

Gianforte’s campaign called the claim “a conspiracy theory.”

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter

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