Montana has launched a new charter school commission to bring families more school choice opportunities, despite a pending lawsuit.
Montana’s new Community Choice School Commission (CCSC) met for the first time on Oct. 2 to approve its bylaws and begin the work of bringing more public school choice to students and families.
The 7-member board exists to approve “community choice” or charter school applications and authorize their public funding. CCSC is overseen by the state Board of Education.
Article X requires the state government to provide a “basic system of free quality public elementary and secondary schools.”
But Trish Schreiber, education policy expert and chairwoman of CCSC, doesn’t buy that argument.
“These exact same arguments have been made in 45 other states, and 45 other states have charter schools,” Schreiber told The Lion.
Montana’s choice schools – like other charter school models – are by definition public schools – publicly funded, tuition-free, and open to all students. But unlike traditional public schools, charters are governed by an independent school board and usually have less union involvement.
Montana is one of the last states in America to implement charters, and Schreiber chalks that up to the education bureaucracy.
“The incumbent education establishment is so strong here in Montana that all the legislative efforts throughout the years – since 1999 – have just not been able to get out of committee,” she told The Lion.
The state legislature finally passed a bill establishing community choice schools earlier this year, with the support of Gov. Greg Gianforte.
The governor was named as a defendant in the charter school lawsuit but indicated his support for school choice.
“While the governor generally doesn’t comment on active litigation, he is committed to empowering Montana parents to choose the education that best meets the individual needs of their child,” said a spokesperson for Gianforte.
Even with a pending lawsuit, Schreiber says the commission is working hard to lay a foundation for future charters.
“We’re allowed to start preparing all of our policies for the charter application process. We’re just not allowed to accept any applications or approve any applications until the lawsuit is settled,” Schreiber explained.
“And as it turns out, that’s totally fine because, as you can imagine, it takes a long time to do all of that anyway,” she continued. “It generally takes [charter school commissions] about a year and a half to two years for them to get all of their policies and everything up and running anyway before they can accept an application.”
Schreiber says the lawsuit will likely take 12-18 months to be resolved – “right at the point where the commission would be ready to accept applications.”