The Montana state school board approved its first batch of charter school applications – a historic development in a state long without school choice.
Despite the nomenclature, both models are forms of public charters, although community choice schools give educators more freedom to innovate and have more independent school boards.
Another key difference is that public charter schools are overseen by the MBPE while the newly assembled Community Choice School Commission (CCSC) manages the other model schools.
The CCSC is currently involved in a lawsuit from school choice opponents, but Trish Schrieber, chairwoman of CCSC, believes school choice will prevail.
“These exact same arguments have been made [against charters] in 45 other states, and 45 other states have charter schools,” Schreiber previously told The Lion.
In September 2023, a judge ruled that the CCSC could begin operations, such as approving by-laws and hiring staff, while the lawsuit proceeds.
Meanwhile, the MBPE is moving forward with its version of charters.
Some of the newly approved schools include early college, multilingual, virtual, and Montessori schools.
“What’s best for our students and what’s best for our parents, and that should remain foremost in our decision making as this board at all times,” said Tim Tharp, who chairs the MBPE.
However, implementing a new system had a few speed bumps.
The board received some criticism, including from Kendall Cotton, president and CEO of the Frontier Institute.
In a public comment, Cotton reminded the board that charter schools’ purpose is to “deliver better results, with less funding, in return for flexibility to innovate.”
He also raised concerns about the lack of detail in some charter applications and the board’s failure to consult with established public charter school organizations.
“This has been a learning process for all of us,” Tharp admitted after the vote on Friday.
Charter schools nationwide have been largely successful at improving academic outcomes with lower costs than traditional public schools.
As a result, charter school enrollment is trending upward while traditional public schools are declining. In states like North Carolina, minority families are leading the charge for more innovation and choice in education.