Age of Learning reports that interest in homeschooling is escalating dramatically.

* Searches for “homeschooling online” went up 365% in the past year compared to the previous 12 months.

* Homeschooling interest is greatest in Portland, Atlanta, and Miami based on online search volume.

* 42% of parents felt more capable of homeschooling kids in elementary school, while 70% were least confident in their ability to homeschool high schoolers.

* Providing a safer environment is the No. 1 reason people want to homeschool their children.

Online learning has become integral in every level of education, and clearly, homeschooling is no exception. Tech is taking over schools across the world, and students spend increasingly more time using educational apps. Many parents are considering eliminating the hassle of taking kids to in-person instruction; current home educators already demonstrate how efficient and beneficial this lifestyle change can be.

About a third of parents are interested in homeschooling options. Interestingly the younger the parents the greater the percentage of interest in homeschooling. Twenty percent of Gen X are interested, while 34 percent of Millenials are interested and 47 percent of Gen Z are interested in homeschooling options.

* Montana ranks #7 in the nation for interest in homeschooling (1.58 per 100,000 residents)

* Montana residents are 327% more likely to search for homeschool info than Nebraska residents

* 77% of parents in the West believe homeschooled students should have to participate in state testing (more than any other region)

* Health, Grammar, and P.E. are the most popular homeschool subjects in the West

Wyoming was the state with the most residents searching online for homeschooling information, but the top five cities spread from coast to coast. According to search volume per 100,000 residents, the five most interested major cities were:

1. Portland, OR

2. Atlanta, GA

3. Miami, FL

4. Denver, CO

5. Las Vegas, NV

Considering the spike in internet searches for homeschooling-related terms over the past year, it’s no surprise that the majority of aspiring parents (59%) were more interested in homeschooling than in public or private schooling. The main factor for most parents when selecting schooling preferences was their kids’ ages. Almost half of the parents surveyed (42%) felt more capable of homeschooling kids in elementary school, while 70% were least confident in their ability to homeschool high schoolers.

Since high school curriculum is more advanced, it’s understandable that parents might be hesitant to take it on—but they don’t have to be. Support is available to ensure your teen gets the education they need. Many community colleges even offer courses to high school-age students, giving them a boost if they decide to pursue a degree. When asked about their reasons for looking into homeschooling, the most common responses of current parents were:

* Providing a safer environment (66%).

* Flexible schedule (56%).

* Preventing toxic socialization (55%).

Aspiring parents had similar reasons for considering homeschooling:

* Providing a safer environment (63%).

* Providing individualized instruction (53%).

* Preventing toxic socialization (50%).

School safety means different things to different people. Many parents are worried about their kids’ physical safety at school due to increased school violence in recent years. Parents are also concerned about how school social settings might affect their kids’ behavior and mental health. 

Kids spend over half of their waking hours at school, so it’s no wonder their school environment plays a big role in their mental and emotional development. That’s likely why more than half of current and aspiring parents were considering homeschooling to prevent toxic socialization. And while safety was a top concern, toxic socialization could be considered a safety issue. 

Current northwestern parents largely said they feel seven-hour daily curriculums are ineffective teaching tools. Midwesterners were most likely to name individualized instruction as the primary reason to consider homeschooling, and for southerners, it was the low ratings of their local schools. Meanwhile, westerners were most likely to associate it with their religious or philosophical beliefs.

The highest-earning foreign-born workers made at least $376,320 in 2019, compared with $279,079 for U.S.-born workers in the same percentile, according to recent research. Foreign-born workers account for nearly one-in-five of the top 1% wage earners in the U.S., new research shows. nt for nearly one-in-five of the top 1% wage earners in the U.S. Overseas-born workers declined slightly as a share of the U.S. workforce between 2005 and 2019. Still, their presence in the top 1% of wage-earners climbed to 19.7% from 13.4%, according to research recently published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Cyndi Johnson, a wheat farmer from Conrad, was re-elected as the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) president during the organization’s 104th Annual Convention in Billings. Voting delegates from 30 county Farm Bureaus elected MFBF leaders during their Delegates Session where policy brought forward by the delegates was discussed and voted on. The 104th Montana Farm Bureau Convention ran from  November 8-11.

The delegates re-elected Vice President Gary Heibertshausen, a sheep rancher from Alzada, Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee Chair Nick Courville, a cattle rancher from Charlo and Women’s Leadership Committee Chair Carla Lawrence, a cattle rancher from Boyd.

New faces on the board include Beth Blevins, a purebred Angus breeder and large animal veterinarian, who was elected as District 1 Director from Ronan; Wayne Stahl, a farmer/rancher from Saco as District 7 Director, and Karl Christians, a cattle rancher from East Helena as District 9 Director.

Re-elected to the MFBF Board of Directors were District 3 Director Kris Descheemaeker, a rancher from Lewistown and District 5 Director Darcia Patten, a rancher from Broadus.

The Montana Farm Bureau is the state’s largest general agricultural organization with 20,000 members. Montana Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving and improving the agriculture and natural resource industries through member involvement in education, political activities, programs and services.

National Equity Fund (NEF), a nonprofit multi-family, affordable, real estate investment manager has expanded its reach in the west with the acquisition of the assets of Mountain Plains Equity Group, Inc. (MPEG), including the ownership of MPEG Acceptance Corporation (Acceptance Corp.).

Based in Billings, MPEG began operations in August 2003 as a small Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) syndicator and has been responsible for the development of affordable housing primarily in six states: Alaska, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

MPEG Acceptance Corp. was created by MPEG to act as a project level investment entity and routinely serves as a special limited partner in LIHTC project partnerships. “As the need for affordable housing grows, NEF recognizes that we must continue to find innovative solutions that enable us to provide more safe and stable housing for individuals and families across the country,” said Matt Reilein, president and CEO of National Equity Fund. “The acquisition of Mountain Plains Equity Group allows us direct access to build a presence in states where NEF has not traditionally had a large market share. Now, we have an opportunity to support sponsors and investors in a new region and offer them NEF’s full suite of products and capabilities to support and create affordable housing.”

With the acquisition, NEF now manages six new private equity funds that hold a total of 49 LIHTC properties. All the properties are focused on serving residents and families who identify as low #income with some properties setting aside units for people with disabilities and aging seniors. “The mission of Mountain Plains Equity Group directly correlates to NEF’s mission to create and deliver innovative, collaborative financial solutions to expand the creation and preservation of affordable housing,” said Reilein.

“With our strong foundation and decades of experience in the LIHTC space, we are confident that this acquisition will help deepen relationships across the country and help keep rents affordable for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.”

In 2022, NEF raised and deployed more than $2.1 billion in affordable housing investments, including more than $1.2 billion in LIHTC-specific investment. The addition of MPEG represents an extended reach that aligns with NEF’s strategic priority to grow its core LIHTC business through innovative partnerships.

For the past two decades, MPEG has been led by president and CEO Don Sterhan. Under Sterhan’s leadership, MPEG has created a major footprint within the mountain and western region by building strategic, impactful relationships with investors and sponsors.

 “After 20 years of serving as the president of Mountain Plains Equity Group, I’m honored to embrace our colleagues at National Equity Fund as we continue our journey together to provide housing for individuals and families in need,” said Sterhan. “MPEG has an outstanding commitment and reputation providing affordable homes to the western region, and now, with the backing of NEF, we can broaden our horizons to positively impact communities that were previously beyond our reach.” Sterhan went on to say “The sale transaction and partnership with NEF is based upon the ‘finance’ side of MPEG’s business, that being the syndication of LIHTC and the management of Investor equity funds. The staff and management of MPEG will nevertheless remain active and engaged in the ‘development’ side of the business. In this capacity, the MPEG personnel will redirect their focus and continue their efforts to develop affordable using properties under the name of CR Builders, LLC.”

First organized in 2011, CR Builders, LLC has successfully developed over 20 affordable housing properties in this market area. In restructuring the business and shifting emphasis, the company will now be devoting 100% of its time and resources to housing development activity.

 By Marilyn Bartlett and Christin Deacon

 Employer health plan costs continue to spiral out of control, threatening profitability, competitiveness, and employee wages. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently announced the average annual employer-sponsored family health plan premium reached $24,000. This cost, generally split between employer and employee, has increased by 50% over the last decade. 

 Employers need not passively accept these health plan cost overruns. They can draw on three pillars of federal healthcare price transparency policy to reverse these runaway costs and protect their employees and bottom lines. 

The first two pillars – the Hospital Price Transparency rule that took effect in January 2021 and the Transparency in Coverage rule that took effect in July 2022 — require hospitals, group health plans, and health insurers to publish their actual prices, including all their negotiated rates with insurance carriers. The third pillar is the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which requires third-party administrators, insurers, and provider networks to share claims information with employer and union group health plans.

 This information can empower employers, who provide health coverage for nearly 160 million Americans, to choose affordable healthcare and benefit from competition. Armed with actual prices, employers can compare their health claims with hospital and health insurance prices to ensure they get the best pricing and care for their employees, and they can ensure they get what they are paying for.

For example, they can identify well-documented wide price variations for the same treatments and choose the best value. A forthcoming report by draws on employers’ claims data that reveal the price of a CT scan of the abdomen or pelvis ranges from $215 to $10,000, the price of a colonoscopy varies from $1,000 to $31,000, and the price of a vaginal delivery fluctuates from $1,800 to $24,000, depending on the employer and treatment location. By comparing their claims against actual posted prices, employers can avoid egregious billing, spread pricing, and other payment schemes responsible for runaway costs. 

 We’ve seen how access to all health plan prices and claims data is needed to dramatically reduce healthcare costs. In 2014, Marilyn was hired to direct Montana’s insolvent State Health Plan, which covers approximately 30,000 state employees, retirees, and their families. An analysis of the plan’s medical claims data revealed Montana hospitals were charging up to six times the Medicare rate for services, with significant price variation between providers. 

To overcome this egregious and highly variable hospital pricing, the plan contracted with hospitals in the state to pay rates slightly more than twice Medicare rates. This move increased plan reserves from a projected deficit of $9 million to a surplus of $112 million in three years, saving $121 million without cost-shifting or decreasing benefit levels.

 Chris ran New Jersey’s 800,000 life public sector health plan and likewise identified wide price variation and discrepancies in the state’s claims data which has led to ongoing investigations into the practices of some of the state’s largest vendors. The state launched a payment integrity program in 2020 that provided enhanced oversight of hospital billing and carrier payment practices to safeguard the plan and protect taxpayer dollars, saving more than $150 million in its first 20 months. 

 Unfortunately, these transformative pillars haven’t become a reality for American healthcare consumers. A recent report finds that only 36% of American hospitals are fully complying with the price transparency rule, including posting all negotiated rates by health plan. A new JAMA study concludes even posted hospital prices are usually very different than the prices hospitals offer over the phone. 

A recent Health Affairs paper reveals most employer health claims don’t match the prices in the insurance price disclosure files. This inaccuracy in pricing data makes it impossible to reconcile claims, identify overbilling, or shop for higher-value care. The study’s authors note, “the intent of the regulations that govern the body of price transparency policies cannot be accomplished with the current level of inaccuracies in the files.” 

 In addition, major employers and unions nationwide, including  Kraft Heinz, Owens & Minor Inc., and Bricklayers and Sheet Metal Workers unions, have recently been forced to sue their own health insurance companies to access claims data for their own health plan. They’ve paid billions to their carriers over the years and have alleged substantial overpayments and spread pricing facilitated by the opaque status quo. 

Even though these three pillars need reinforcement, employers can still follow our lead and others like us who have stood firm on them to reduce health plan costs. They can draw on their claims data, actual prices from hospitals, and the prices negotiated by carriers on employers’ behalf to make smart purchasing decisions and demand accountability. For now, they need to fight for this information. But the more employers who do so, the stronger the three pillars will become and the easier it will be to finally reduce outrageous health plan costs. 

Marilyn Bartlett, CPA, CMA, CFM, CGMA, is the former administrator of the State of Montana Employee Health Plan. Christin Deacon is the former Director of Health Benefits Operations and Policy and Planning for New Jersey.

Dr. Susan Gilbertz has been appointed the new MSU-B College of Business Interim Dean, with the retirement of Ed Garding, who retired as Interim Dean for the College of Business in June 30. He was former First Interstate Bank President.

A search for a new College of Business Dean was announced in October.

Gilbertz grew up on a ranch south of Gillette, Wyoming and attended small rural schools. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wyoming in Communication and Conflict Management. Later, from Texas A&M University, she earned the PhD in Geography.

Gilbertz served at Texas A&M University for 18 years as: instructor of communication, coordinator of advising for a department, international studies faculty exchange instructor (Italy, France, Indonesia, China, Germany, Oman), and co-investigator on nearly $1,000,000 of research grants involving environmental conflicts.

In 2003, she took the position of Director of Environmental Studies at Montana State University Billings. In her twenty years with MSUB she managed the EVST program, taught a variety of courses. Before taking the Associate Dean position with the COB, she served in faculty leadership roles.

Gilbertz’s primary research interests have focused on the sustainability of the communities of the Yellowstone, the Clark’s Fork, Madison, the Ruby, the Milk and the St. Mary’s Rivers of Montana. She has overseen over $500,000 in research projects for MSUB, and has nearly 50 publications.

Gilbertz was recently enlisted by the USGS to serve as the co-chair/US representative to the St. Mary’s/Milk River Socioeconomic Technical Working Group of the Joint International Commission that oversees water sharing between Canada and the US.

Gilbertz remains involved in the management of three ranching business entities in Wyoming and is the sole proprietor of a small social entrepreneurship enterprise in Billings. 

The search for a new College of Business Dean was announced earlier in October and a full position description may be found at

Two College of Business alumni were given awards Oct 7, 2023 at the MSUB Alumni Awards Brunch. Jeff Cysewski, Class of 1985, Business Administration, received the Exceptional Achievement Award. This award recognizes the accomplishments of alumni who have demonstrated exceptional achievement in their chosen professions, made positive impacts on their communities, and are involved with MSU Billings.

Lee Humphrey, Class of 2003, Distinguished Alumni Award. This award honors alumni who have distinguished themselves through personal, professional, and civic contributions, while bringing a sense of honor, pride, and recognition to the university community.

By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square

A proposed long-term care staffing rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would not improve care but would force nursing homes to close, 14 Republican governors said in a letter to CMS.

The rule changes would require long-term care facilities to conduct a facility assessment that includes a staffing plan within 60 days of the rule’s implementation. The second phase of the rule mandates a registered nurse must be onsite 24 hours a day.

The final element of the rule would require a registered nurse on site for 0.55 hours per resident day and nurses aides onsite for 2.45 hours per resident. It would be implemented three years after the final rule is published.

The governors, including Gov. Greg Gianforte, said the rule would lead to a crisis in the long-term care industry.

“America’s long-term care industry is facing a full-fledged workforce crisis, hitting lows not seen since 1994,” the governors said in the letter. “Between February 2020 and December 2022, facilities lost more than 200,000 workers, and industry observers view long-term care as among the hardest hit sectors in healthcare that has still not recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. Such challenges are especially acute in rural areas. Despite this, the CMS requirements would force over 80% of facilities nationwide to hire more staff at a time when workers, particularly RNs, have never been scarcer.”

The requirements could force nursing homes to close, they said.

The Iowa Health Care Association agrees. Twenty-seven nursing homes have closed in Iowa since 2022, according to the association, which represents 318 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across the state.

“The CMS rule issued today to enforce the Administration’s proposed mandate will needlessly exacerbate the extraordinary health care workforce crisis, tear at the fabric of our rural communities, and threaten access to long-term care services for Iowans who depend on those services to meet their most basic human needs,” said IHCA president and CEO Brent Willett the day the rule was released. “Today’s rule, if allowed to stand, will result in further closures, introducing needless trauma into the lives of residents and preventing access to care for rural Iowans who deserve it.”

The letter is signed by the governors of Iowa, Nebraska, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.


West Grand Retail Partners LLC/ Fabricon LLC, 1335 Golden Valley Cir, Com Addition, $88,000

Lordwith LLC/ Harley Construction, LLC, 427 Lordwith Dr, Com Addition, $13,000

Laighton D Jones Dental Proper/ Jones Construction, Inc, 502 Wicks Ln, Com New Other, $2,500,000

City Of Billings – Parks Dept/ Creekside Construction Of Montana LLC, 2005 6th Ave N, Com New Other, $210,710

Albertsons Companies/ Langlas & Assoc., Inc., 670 Main St, Com New Parking Lot/Non- Building Structure, $110,000

Step Inc/ Edgewater Construction LLC, 1437 Wyoming Ave, Com Remodel, $9,000

Miguel Murillo/ Jones Construction, Inc, 2212 Grant Rd, Com Remodel, $166,000

Shiloh Crossing Partners LLC/ Jones Construction, Inc, 820 Shiloh Crossing Blvd, Com Remodel, $280,000

Fischer And Erwin/ Dynamic Construction Solutions LLC, 2324 Rehberg Ln, Com Remodel, $214,400

Lordwith LLC /Dynamic Construction Solutions LLC, 421 Lordwith Dr, Com Remodel, $280,000

Olson, Grant A & Bethany J/ Miller Construction & Remodel LLC, 1826 Grand Ave, Com Remodel, $15,000

Better Billings Foundation/ Langlas & Assoc., Inc., 543 Aronson Ave, Com Addition, $1,000,000

Rocky Plaza Association/ Yellowstone Electric Co., 1400 Poly Dr, Com Addition, $80,000

City Of Billings (Airport)/ Monarch Limited Of Montana, 2543 Altimeter Dr, Com New Warehouse/Storage, $120,000

Caramel Cookie/ Jones Construction, Inc, 3465 A J Way, Com Remodel, $17,256

Beartooth Business LLC/ Jones Construction, Inc, 2940 Grand Ave, Com Remodel, $148,500

Broso Valley Lodging Investors, 3550 Ember Ln, Com Remodel, $490,604

Billings Mt 1 Fgf LLC/ Star Service, Inc., 2900 4th Ave N, Com Remodel, $240,000

Mark Weber, 2212 Grant Rd, Com Remodel, $250,000

Dibra Investment Holdings LLC/ Neumann Construction, 4120 King Ave W, Com Remodel, $150,000

Nelson, Andy & Bert, 2413 Montana Ave, Com Remodel, $3,000


Hartmann, Dexter A & Brenda, 1010 Harvard Ave, Res New Accessory Structure. $43,200

Simonson, Steven G & Rachel E/ Nygaard Builders LLC, 5342 Cabernet Ln, Res New Accessory Structure, $8,000

Brownell, Michael R & Mary S, 3910 Heritage Dr, Res New Accessory Structure $65,000

Billings Best Builders/ Billings Best Builders LLC, 5216 Grass Mountain Rd, Res New Single Family, $553,000

Leon Clause/ Green Jeans LLC, 1207 Cherry Island Dr, Res New Single Family, $310,000

 4 Mt Homes Inc/ 4 Mt Homes Inc, 2317 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $213,528

4 Mt Homes Inc/ 4 Mt Homes Inc, 820 Hermosa St, Res New Single Family, $188,246

4 Mt Homes Inc/ 4 Mt Homes Inc, 821 Hermosa St, Res New Single Family, $188,246

Lorenz Construction LLC/ Double Duece Ventures LLC, 3543 Rachelle Cir, Res New Single Family, $375,000

Cdh, LLC/ Cdh, LLC, 5231 Rich Ln, Res New Single Family, $278,601

Christensen/ Michael Christensen Homes, 1240 Timbers Blvd S, Res New Single Family, $450,000

Christensen/ Michael Christensen Homes, 1246 Timbers Blvd S, Res New Single Family, $450,000

South Pine Design/ South Pine Design, 1757 E Thunder Mountain Rd, Res New Single Family, $450,000

The Billings Community Foundation has completed the 2023 grant cycle awarding regional non-profit projects in the Greater Yellowstone Region over $110,000. Non-profit organizations in a 9-county region were invited to apply for grants in the range of $2500 – $5000, with grants issued being issued at a celebration luncheon on October 17.

Grant categories include Capacity Building, Collaborative Projects, Community Impact, and Endowments. Now in its 15th year, the BCF annual grant cycle has provided more than $670,000 to charitable causes in our area. Funding for grants comes both from Billings Community Foundation BCF impact funds and from donor-based funds managed by the Foundation.

The Billings Community Foundation manages over $8 million dollars in assets that support donor wishes in support of local non-profit efforts. In addition, BCF hosts non-profit projects through Fiscal Sponsorship “The community foundation is a central point of contact between donors who have desire to support their local community and our organizations who can move the needle on some of our most valuable challenges and continue important work in the region” said Zack Terakedis, the Foundation’s new Executive Director. “Our grant program has grown from around $10,000 in the first few years to now more than $100,000 given out each year. Our board of directors is committed to growing lasting resources for the non-profits who are creating positive impact in their local communities.” Eligible organizations are 501c3 non-profits with an impact in Big Horn, Carbon, Custer, Fergus, Musselshell, Rosebud, Stillwater, Treasure, and Yellowstone Counties. Grant Recipients include: St. Vincent de Paul, Riverstone Health Foundation, Billings Depot, Code Girls United, Our Montana, Veteran’s Navigation Network, Montana Legal Services, Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter, Western Heritage Center, CASA of Yellowstone County, Montana Health Professionals for Healthy Climate, Billings First Congregational Church, Marketplace of Ideas, United Way, Boys and Girls Club, Family Service, United Campus Ministries, Friendship House, Special K Ranch, Great Plains Youth Programs, YWCA, and Family Promise