Montana Public Schools are the Heart of Our Communities

Thoughts on Public Education from Mary Sheehy Moe.

Mary Moe served as a senator in the Montana State Legislature, as a trustee for Great Falls Public Schools, as a Great Falls City Commissioner, and on numerous state and local committees.

People often ask me why I stay so involved in public education. I haven’t taught in a K-12 classroom for over 30 years, and I spent the last 20 years of my career in higher education. Yet the first thing I did when I retired was run for the school board. As a state senator, my priority was public education. I continue to serve on committees at the state and local levels advocating for high-quality public schools. Why?

Mary Moe, Montana Teacher of the Year, 1986

It’s pretty simple, really. Like the Montanans who created our constitution, I believe that every child has a potential that good schools can develop into skills, talents, and interests that will take that student anywhere, no matter where she or he started out. I’ve seen it happen again and again and again. Every Montana child deserves that opportunity.

When we don’t provide free, high-quality education to develop that potential in every child, it’s not just the child who suffers. We all do. We don’t have the workforce we need to prosper as communities. We spend more tax dollars funding the health, social, and penal program associated with lack of literacy and skills. A legislator who knew the state budget inside and out once told me that you can plan the number of social programs and prison cells Montana will need in 25 years around the number of children who are not reading at grade level by third grade this year. That’s chilling.

Montana’s public schools are unique in that they don’t just educate a community’s children; they are at the heart of what makes our communities communities. Go to any concert or sporting event or high school graduation and you will see how special this sense of community is. Other states have lost it. But in Montana, we care about our own children and we care about yours too. We want them to have the same shot at the American dream our kids have. We want their victories to be our victories. We want all our kids to grow up together and grow old together and, because of the time they shared together in our public schools, develop that understanding and sense of connectedness that lasts a lifetime long.

Mary with one of her grandsons

If it is true that Montana is really just one nice-sized town with really, really long streets – and I think it is – it’s our public schools that have paved those streets. I will be out there grading and sloping and smoothing asphalt to keep them paved till the day I die. That’s what yesterday’s Montanans did for me. That’s what I owe tomorrow’s Montanans, my grandchildren and yours. That’s what I owe the state I love and the communities I love.

–Mary Sheehy Moe

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