Montana Gov. Steve Bullock

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock at Pintlala Elementary School in Montgomery County.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat and possible presidential candidate in 2020, traveled Friday for an in-person look at the nation’s leader in per-Kindergarten education.

He came to Alabama.

To be specific, he and other Montana lawmakers came to Hope Hull, a speck of a place in southern Montgomery County. One of their stops was Pintlala Elementary School, one of the 53 campuses of the Montgomery Public Schools system. At one point in the day, Bullock posed for a picture with two Pintlala Elementary students and posted it on his official Montana governor Twitter account.

“We met with other legislators and policymakers here, and business folks,” Bullock told Montgomery’s WSFA TV, “to see why are, why has Alabama recognized important investment that you’re making for workforce for the future? And we’re down here, more or less, to learn from the good stuff happening here.”

It wasn’t just a picture, by the way.

It’s an example of the exposure Alabama earns when lawmakers discard their worst behaviors — corruption, the filling of meaningless bills, defending against worthwhile proposals that might affect taxes — and commit to improving Alabamians’ lives.

Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program has earned the National Institute for Early Education Research’s (NIEER) top ranking 12 years in a row. That’s Sabanesque. Dating to the administration of former Gov. Bob Riley, Alabama has increasingly invested in giving 3- and 4-year-olds this educational boost before they enter first grade.

Today, Alabama’s pre-K is both a success and a work in progress. Only 29 percent of the state’s eligible students are enrolled in the program, according to the NIEER. That’s not enough. We commend the state Legislature for putting $18.5 million more into First Class for next year, which should allow another 1,400 children to participate. We can think of nothing Gov. Kay Ivey and legislators could invest taxpayers’ money that’s more worthwhile than public early education programs.

Here’s where contrast isn’t kind to Alabama’s reputation. Overall, our public schools rank poorly in national lists, our poverty rates are abysmally high and our refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is harming low-income Alabamians and the hospitals that treat them. No governor would visit our state to see how we tackle poverty or address health care. But Bullock’s trip proves how excellent Alabama can be when lawmakers worry about what’s right instead of what gets them re-elected.

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