HELENA, Mont. – Montana public school students won’t have to automatically make up class time lost to the coronavirus, Gov. Steve Bullock announced Thursday, while lawmakers said the state’s budget surplus could be tapped to help weather the crisis over the pandemic.
A directive issued by the Democratic governor waives pupil instruction requirements through March 27 and says local districts will continue receiving state money through the same period.
Bullock on Sunday ordered K-12 public school closed through March 27.
If the closures extend longer, to continue receiving funding and waive class time requirements, districts will have to show they’re making up for lost time through remote learning, such as online teaching.
Districts are preparing for the possibility that classes will be cancelled for the rest of the school year due to the pandemic
Waivers of class time will be subject to a final decision by Bullock, but his approval will be presumed if local school boards have an approved education plan that includes remote learning, according to the directive.
The plans must also include provisions for providing student meals and services for students with disabilities.
In a separate action, Bullock issued an advisory asking state residents who travelled internationally to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return and contact their local health department.
On the legislative front, leaders of the state House and Senate fiscal committees issued a joint statement that Montana’s financial position remains sound.
The state budget reserve fund has about $115 million, the fire fund has $55 million and the general fund has a surplus of almost $300 million, said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nancy Ballance of Hamilton, Vice Chairman Llew Jones of Conrad and Senate Finance and Claims Committee Chairman Ryan Osmundson of Buffalo.
The Republican lawmakers said they were working with Bullock and other lawmakers to find ways to support workers facing layoffs or unemployment, and added that they were recommending temporary rules to protect workers’ long-term unemployment benefits.
“We must move quickly both to contain the virus’ spread and to alleviate the financial strain it is placing on businesses and their workers,“ the lawmakers said.
Eleven people have tested positive in Montana for the coronavirus, most recently a Missoula man in his 50s and a Gallatin County man in his 60s.
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For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. But for the elderly and people with existing conditions, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority of those who are infected recover.
State officials had tested 773 people as of Thursday morning.