Montanans have a 70-year tradition of investing in state higher education. On Nov. 6, voters across the state will again have the opportunity to renew that economic and societal investment by voting for the 6-mill levy.
Public colleges and universities are a key conduit for the stateís workforce. Generations of graduates of the Montana university systemís 11 campuses have benefited from the 6-mill levy. Voters have a chance to renew that support for future generations.
The return on this investment manifests itself in the 69 percent of graduates who are fully employed in communities across the state.
The 6-mill levy accounts for 10 percent of the Montana university systemís total annual funding. With the decline in the legislative share of funding in the last 25 years, 60 percent of the current cost of a college education has fallen upon students, more than double from a generation ago. Failure to pass the 6-mill levy could result in a tuition increase of up to 18 percent according to projections made by the Montana university system. This would hamstring studentsí ability to better themselves and their communities through a college education.
Like other graduates, I personally have benefitted from the 6-mill levy. Born and raised in Kalispell, I am the son of a third-generation logger and travel agency small business owner. I became the first person in my family to attend college and earn a degree. Upon graduating from MSU in Bozeman, I returned to my hometown community where I was hired full-time as a teacher in Kalispell Public Schools.
I recently became a first-time homeowner. On my home valued at $200,000, $24 of my annual property tax statement will go to the stateís public colleges and universities. In my mind, that is small price to pay to ensure that the high school students I now teach have access to the same affordable and excellent education in Montana that I had.
Voting for the 6-mill levy is not voting for a tax increase, but honoring a Montana promise we have upheld for 70 years ≠ó a promise built on the belief that education coupled with hard work is the greatest means to rise above your circumstance.
Levi Birky is a former student regent of the Montana University System Board of Regents 2016-2017, student body president of Montana State University 2015-2016, and Montanaís 2016 Truman Scholar. He is a 2017 MSU graduate working as a social studies teacher at Glacier High School in Kalispell.