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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana charter school panel will meet next week, with two fewer members

Ahead of its first meeting next week, the panel charged with regulating a new system of public charter schools in Montana is down two members. The commission’s work has already been stunted by a lawsuit.

Bozeman teacher Emily Hessler and retired U.S. Marine Corps officer Gary Carlson won’t be in attendance at the inaugural meeting of the Community School Choice Commission on Oct. 2.

Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen appointed the two about a month ago. They said they haven’t decided on replacement appointees.

The seven-member commission is a product of a new state law that tasks the panel with approving and regulating public charter schools, which could accept state funding but would be exempt from many rules that currently govern K-12 schools in Montana.

A Helena judge partially blocked that law earlier this month, allowing the commission to meet and draft policies, but preventing it from approving any charter schools pending further litigation.

In the meantime, committee chair Trish Schreiber said the panel will work to pass bylaws and learn from the 45 states in the country that have existing public charter school systems.

“So, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here,” Schreiber told MTPR. “And, we can make this uniquely Montanan while applying best practices.” 

Schreiber said the public is invited to watch along and participate in all the panel’s meetings. She said the judge’s order won’t have immediate impacts, as she expects the commission won’t be ready to start approving new charter schools for up to two years.

Gov. Greg Gianforte appointed Schreiber to a four-year term at the head of the commission. She said the governor did not give her any directives for outcomes he wants to see from the panel.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

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