MT 2011 Legislature

Mar 16, 2011 10:30 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)

Bill would allow charter schools in Montana

Montana Representative Mark Blasdel's (R-Somers) House Bill 603 is a response to a cry from parents to have another educational option for their children. Blasdel wants the ability to establish public charter schools in Montana.

Theresa Lode calls herself a concerned parent, and says the current educational models are 150 years old.

"They served us well in the industrial age, but times have changed. The job market is requiring new skills. It is clear everything has changed except for our educational models," Lode told the House Education committee.

According to the bill, a public charter school independently decides what to teach and how to teach it. It is not subject to the same guidelines as other public schools. The goal is to increase student success and customize an education for each child.

The Montana Family Foundation helped draft the language in the bill. The Foundation's President, Jeff Laszloffy, says this bill is about helping kids succeed.

"Sure the other side will argue that we have private schools and home schools, but those are only available to kids whose parents have money. What about kids from disadvantaged homes don't they deserve a chance?" Laszloffy asked the committee.

Under the bill parents would simply enroll their children. If the school was full, students would be chosen through a lottery process.

"What kind of educational environment that we would create that we would say to children and their parents, you get chosen by a lottery," President of the MEA-MFT Eric Feaver says.

The Montana Constitution states the Board of Public Education must oversee all public schools. This bill says public charter schools are run by an independent governing body.

Helena Public Schools Superintendent Bruce Messinger says the bill is a lawsuit waiting to happen

"What is public about this proposal is the public funds that would be used to run a private charter school. As I read through this bill, this doesn't look like anything we created or wrote in Montana," Messinger says.

The Office of Public Instruction already has a rule allowing charter schools to apply to the Board of Education for accreditation. Blasdel's bill would allow the creation of charter schools without the Board's approval.