Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Recent Montana District Court decisions may have placed the topic of school choice in Montana in limbo, but as the new school year gets underway, school choice advocates are asking Montanans to keep asking questions about their rights as parents concerning their children's education.

KGVO News spoke on Friday with Andrew Campanella, Chairman and CEO of the National School Choice Awareness Foundation about where school choice stands in Montana. Campanella started by stating that Montana parents need to know they have positive options when it comes to public education.

Despite Lawsuits, the Issue of School Choice is Still Active

“Here at the National School Choice Awareness Foundation, we raise awareness among parents about all the different options available for their children's K through 12,” began Campanella. “It’s all about education, from traditional public schools to public charter public magnet private online, home, and non-traditional education. And really what we want to do is make sure that first, parents know what options are available and have an easy process of navigating their choices, and to make sure people all across the state and the country recognize that when families have choices kids are better off.”

Even though ‘charter schools’ are currently enjoined in court, Campanella said parents also have choices as to which school district their child can attend.

Parents now have the Right to Choose a School outside Their District

“We need opportunities for families, not because they might be unhappy with their district schools, but because district schools are an essential choice that families want to be able to choose, and they might want to choose the school that's outside of their zone or district. The legislature last year in Montana made it easier for families to choose public schools outside of their zones and districts.”

Campanella explained his view of the lawsuit that has temporarily stopped the creation of charter schools and other educational choices.

“So, let's be clear about the purpose of this lawsuit,” he said. “There are lawsuits designed to stop all the new school choice programs in the state; from the creation of Community Choice Charter Schools, which are free public schools that would be created in communities that would give families additional choices, to the expansion of a scholarship program that helps kids with special learning needs go to schools of their parents choice to the expansion of high-quality online learning.”

Campanella further explained the effect of the lawsuits.

Campanella asks Parents to Pay Close Attention to What's Being Taught in School

"It's a baseless set of suits, but it is having its desired outcome," he said. "What I want families in Montana to do now is to follow what's going on to take note, and to continue to evaluate how their kids are doing in school this year because the likelihood exists that later on this year or early next year, these programs will come online. The last time these groups sued school choice in Montana, it went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and the families won.

Campanella acknowledged that the lawsuit has caused a temporary pause in the inevitable expansion of school choice in Montana, which would give parents more input into their children’s education.

Read the two bills at the heart of the lawsuits. They are HB 562, and HB 549.

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