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I'm a 21-year-old history major at the University of Montana, who grew up northwest of Hamilton and graduated from Corvallis High School in 2015. I'm a fourth-generation Montanan who's lived in the Bitterroot since 2002 (my great-grandparents on both sides mostly homesteaded in the Great Falls area).

I'm writing to the Ravalli Republic for the first time because I'm deeply concerned about the future of higher education in this state. The recent cuts to the Montana University System (or MUS) have been crippling. About $12.4 million was cut from the MUS during the 2017 legislative session. SB 261 has caused a decrease of $15 million in funding.

Undergraduate students, myself included, recently faced a tuition increase of 13 percent as a result of the 2017 legislative cuts. Gov. Bullock has requested a 10 percent reduction across all state agencies, leading to another $45 million reduction.

If it wasn’t for a pair of very generous scholarships I received I would be unable to attend college in the U.S. without taking on crippling amounts of debt. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I got an excellent education at Corvallis, and it is due to that alone that I am able to say that I am not drowning in debt like so many of my classmates and friends. Not everyone is so fortunate.

This is why it's essential that we, as a state, take steps to enhance our revenue. Revenue enhancements can and will alleviate the negative impacts felt by budget cuts without hurting other agencies by increasing the amount of money available for allocation. They're really the only way to go at this point.

As a state, we should not have to decide between people having access to healthcare and getting an education, or between fighting a fire and maintaining our roads and bridges. And yet, thanks to our current lack of funds, those very decisions may well have to be made in the near future, unless we find a way to replenish our coffers.

I hope you take this into consideration. Please support Gov. Bullock’s proposal, for the future of Montana and of Montanan students of this and future generations. Education truly is the engine of social and economic mobility, and Gov. Bullock’s proposal will enable students in the Bitterroot and across Montana to gain the skills and knowledge that will allow them to reach their highest potential, and in so doing, allow Montana to reach its highest potential.

Let’s build a better state. And let’s do it in the best possible way: by giving Montanans the tools to succeed.

Henry Curtis, Corvallis High School class of 2015

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