Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The Montana Legislature recently passed two public education bills: HB 549 and HB 562.

HB 549 as amended, states that it is the intent of the legislature ‘to create innovative and high-performing public charter schools under the general supervision of the Board of Public Education and under the supervision and control of trustees of the governing board who are elected by qualified electors in the community where the charter school is located.’

Explaining a Charter School in Montana

In addition, a charter school is a tuition-free school of choice that is publicly funded but independently run.

HB 562 describes and defines the establishment, operation, and funding of Choice Schools in Montana. 'The legislature shall provide a basic system of free quality public elementary and secondary schools. The legislature may provide such other educational institutions, public libraries, and educational programs as it deems desirable. It shall fund and distribute in an equitable manner to the school districts the state's share of the cost of the basic elementary and secondary school system. The bill uses Community Choice School to be interchangeable with Choice Schools.’

KGVO News reached out to Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Elsie Arntzen, and Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives Sue Vinton about the new additions to Montana’s Public Schools System.

“In both of these bills, one by Representative Anderson and one that was by Representative Vinton, they would apply to the students within the county,” began Arntzen. “There would be an opportunity from the state then to transfer the money that comes from one school district to the charter, however after five years, if the charter then is removed, then that money would flow back into the district.”

Arntzen related how the funding would be provided.

“There's also a base entitlement for the (school) building to turn the lights on and all of that would come from the state,” she said. “So basically it's a transfer from the state to the district. And then the district, if it allows the charter under Representative Anderson, then the money would flow from the district to the charter. If it's created brand new, it would flow from the state to this brand new entity of representative Vinton’s bill.”

Arntzen said basically that state funding would ‘follow the student’.

Representative Vinton provided a further explanation of funding for the Charter and Community Choice schools.

“That is true that a portion of the funding that currently would go to the public school would follow that student if that student's family chose to have them attend a charter school,” said Vinton. “That's not the same as funding the charter school. The funding is for the individual student and their educational needs.”

Speaker Sue Vinton said the Reaction by Public School Officials was Expected

Vinton said the reaction by public school officials was expected by those who introduced and promoted the school choice bills.

“I believe that when it comes to public schools and private schools, home schools and charter schools, what is good for one student isn't necessarily a good fit for another student,” she said. “I just think that public schools, in particular, tend to overreact and they are very fearful, and their response is to circle the wagons and do whatever they can to fight against innovation in education.”

Attached are explanations of the effects of both bills provided by the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

HB 549

HB 562

KGVO first reached out to MCPS for information about how the bills would affect Missoula’s public schools.

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