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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

New laws pave the way for public charter schools, legal action promised

Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed two bills that pave the way for public charter schools in Montana. Public school advocates have promised legal action against one of them.

The bills allow for two differing systems for publicly funded, autonomous charter schools. One includes a requirement for publicly elected boards to oversee the schools, while the other does not.

Gianforte signed the policies into law as part of a package of education bills passed by the 2023 Legislature. He says the bills will empower parents and expand individualized learning opportunities for students.

Initially both charter school bills died in the state Senate during the legislative session. But Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick urged lawmakers to revive the bills, saying the charter school issue needs to be resolved in court.

On Friday, the Montana Quality Education Coalition, an organization of school administrators and public school advocates, promised to challenge in court the bill that does not require elected oversight of new charter schools. The group says it violates the state’s constitutional requirements for public education. They also plan to sue over another bill signed by the governor that creates a voucher system for families of special needs students to reroute their tax dollars from public districts to private or home schooling.

The Montana School Boards Association estimates that bill could cost local public school districts upwards of $14 million if 10% of qualifying families choose to participate.

Gianforte also signed bills to increase a cap on a tax credit that supports families who sent their children to private school, allow homeschooled students to partially enroll in public districts and expand access to the Montana Digital Academy.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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