VICTOR - Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill said he wants to have more education and government accountability as well as unleash the state's economic potential during a stop in the Bitterroot Valley on Friday.
Hill, a former congressman, spoke at a luncheon at the Church of Nazarene in Victor. The event was sponsored by the North and South Valley Pachyderm clubs, as well as the Ravalli County Republican Women.
In a prepared speech, Hill hit on high school dropout rates as an area of concern.
"There was an article in the paper I think yesterday claiming how much progress we've made because the dropout rate of our schools had gone from 18.8, I think, to 18.3 percent," Hill told the crowd. "I would assert to you that if 18 percent of our kids are dropping out of high school and not getting a high school diploma, we've got a problem."
The report from the Montana Office of Public Instruction, however, said last year's dropout rate in grades 7-12 in the state was 3 percent, down from 3.6 percent the previous year.
Dropout rates, which are different than completion rates, account for students enrolled in school any time during the year who are not enrolled during the official enrollment count the following October.
The completion rate, which accounts for those in a cohort group who complete graduation requirements by the end of a four-year high school tenure, was 82.1 percent last year compared to 81.9 percent in 2009.
When questioned after the speech, Hill said he "may not have been as articulate about it" as he could have been.
"People do mix the terms up and I understand that in the minds of some, there is a distinction," he said. "If I used the term dropout, I meant completion rate."
He said, despite the technical terms, the point he was trying to make is he sees those numbers as a problem.
"Twenty percent or thereabouts of our kids not completing high school is the problem, whether they're dropping out or not starting," Hill said.
Hill told the crowd of more than 40 that the economy tops his list of concerns.
"We're going through one of the toughest patches, economically, in the history of Montana," Hill said.
Development of natural resources such as coal, oil, gas and wind, he said, could change the state's economy.
"We're sitting on this mountain of wealth. We have enough energy supply if we put it to use in Montana to supply the entire needs of this nation," he said. "We've got to deal with interplay of the legal and regulatory environment working together that are impediments to unleashing the potential of the state of Montana.
"We've got to get government out of the way and that's what this campaign is all about."
Hill also hit on government spending, saying it isn't just federal government spending he believes needs to be slashed.
"We tend to look at Washington and say we've got this pyramiding of debt that is going to smother this country if we don't do something about it," Hill said. "But we have similar problems in Montana."
After his prepared speech, Hill opened the floor to questions, which ranged from topics such as how he would work with the Montana Legislature and his ideas on education reform to his position on medical marijuana and government grants.
This is the second time this year Hill has spoken in the Bitterroot Valley. He was one of a handful of speakers at the Lincoln-Reagan Luncheon, also in Victor, in February. On this trip to the valley, Hill also spent time meeting with Ravalli County state legislators in Stevensville, as well as speaking to the Ravalli County Tea Party Patriots in Hamilton.
Reporter Whitney Bermes can be reached at 363-3300 or at email@example.com.