Montana Public Charter Schools Ready to Open as Legislature Looks into Adjustments

During the upcoming 2025 session, the Montana Legislature is poised to evaluate “minor” adjustments to statutes concerning public charter schools, as indicated by a lawmaker and chair of an education committee.

According to the Office of Public Instruction, 18 schools are set to commence operations this year.

Rep. Dave Bedey, R-Hamilton, mentioned that he is confident the legislation facilitating more charter schools is straightforward as drafted.

“I’m pleased that schools statewide can swiftly implement these innovative programs,” expressed Bedey.

In the 2023 session, House Bill 549, greenlighting additional charter schools within the public school framework, received legislative approval. Nonetheless, a lawsuit lodged earlier this spring claimed the Office of Public Instruction was impeding progress.

In a ruling last month, a Lewis and Clark District Court judge opposed the Office of Public Instruction’s stance, insisting on preconditions like a parental petition and county commissioners’ approval for launching charter schools.

The legal tussle unfolded alongside students’ preparations to enroll in new schools; educators feared delays owing to disagreements over the schools’ opening procedures.

Recently, the court endorsed an agreement between plaintiffs, the Montana Quality Education Coalition, and defendants Superintendent Elsie Arntzen and the Office of Public Instruction, effectively resolving some disputes.

The Montana Quality Education Coalition, comprising over 100 school districts and five education groups, is one of the state’s prominent education advocacy bodies.

The agreed stipulation affirms that the Office of Public Instruction has facilitated processes for schools to commence activities by July 1, 2024, and complies with the court’s preliminary injunction from the prior month.

The Office of Public Instruction confirmed that, by May 13, 15 out of 18 schools slated to enroll students this year had commenced operations. Corrective actions are underway with one school, and applications are pending from two others, with one school scheduled to open in fall 2025.

Despite overseeing education budget matters, Rep. Bedey contended that amendments might not be essential, albeit some slight modifications could be entertained.

He emphasized that a straightforward interpretation of HB 549 outlines the school approval process, the Board of Public Education’s jurisdiction, and the Office of Public Instruction’s responsibilities.

While Bedey perceives the existing legislation as clear, he considers the forthcoming legislative session an opportunity to clarify intentions and dispel any ambiguities for those interpreting the bill differently.

Amidst mounting concerns, legislators voted 6-2 in March to admonish Arntzen for purportedly falling short in fulfilling obligations linked to HB 549 and other endorsed educational initiatives.

Following these events, the Montana Quality Education Coalition proceeded to file the lawsuit the same month.

Bedey expressed disappointment that the matter required court intervention, pointing out the legislation’s apparent clarity and the challenge in persuading the superintendent during a committee session in March.

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