HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana enters the upcoming school year back among the handful of states without publicly funded preschool, and the unions and education groups that are otherwise staunch allies of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock are a big reason why his fledgling pre-kindergarten program fizzled.

The state briefly broke from those ranks with a 2017 budget item that provided funding for preschool programs through 10 school districts and seven private providers. Bullock, who is now running for the Democratic nomination for president, touted it as a major win for one of his top priorities of his final term: early childhood education.

He also said it would be the beginning of a statewide program that would ultimately help boost graduation rates, lead to better and higher-paying jobs and lift Montana from being one of just six states — including Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota and New Hampshire — that don’t spend public money on preschool.

Eric Feaver, a Democratic Party activist and president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, said he would have opposed the last-minute budget item if he’d had the chance.

So when Bullock’s priority list for his final legislative session this year included pushing an expansion of the pre-kindergarten program through the Republican-dominated Legislature, Feaver and others were wary.

The governor’s $22 million preschool package failed to get a committee vote during the 2019 session so Bullock backed a compromise — a Republican bill to spend $15 million over two years on both private and public preschools.

And this time, Feaver and others, such as School Administrators of Montana Executive Director Kirk Miller, lobbied against the governor.