By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact - News


Big Sky Connection - Public education supporters are suing to stop two bills related to "school choice" from moving forward in Montana. Supporters of the legislation say they want parents to have more control over their children's education options. Critics say both measures would siphon money away from public schools. Comments from Amanda Curtis, president, the Montana Federation of Public Employees.

Click on the image above for the audio.  The union that represents Montana's public school teachers has filed suit to stop a pair of school choice bills in the state. One would create Educational Savings Accounts, the other a charter school system, both of which would be funded with state education money. (Adobe Stock)

Mark Moran

February 26, 2024 - Montana's largest teachers union has filed two lawsuits against "school choice" measures in the state.

Montana lawmakers passed House Bill 393 last year, creating Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) that would allow parents to use public money to pay for kids' private school tuition.

Montana's is a little different than similar ESAs around the country, in that it applies only to special education student tuition.

Montana Federation of Public Employees President Amanda Curtis said funding the ESAs can't help but affect public school students.

"The voucher scheme will defund Montana's public schools," said Curtis, "which takes away the constitutional right of every Montana kid to a free, quality public education."

Curtis added that in order for a special education student to receive state money in an ESA, the family has to waive its right to federal special-ed benefits - which she contends also unconstitutional.

Supporters of ESAs say they can better meet their children's educational needs outside the public school system. Thirteen states have some form of ESA, and the movement is growing nationwide.

The union has also filed suit against House Bill 562, which creates a charter school system in Montana - with schools that would not be governed by the Montana Office of Public Instruction, but by a group of parents and school staff.

Curtis said the state would have no oversight of such a commission, which has prompted opposition by the Montana Quality Education Coalition - considered the "heavy hitters" in Montana public education.

"It's the School Boards Association," said Curtis. "It is the school administrators. It is all of the rural educators. It's superintendents from every single class of school - nearly every school district - across the state."

Supporters of the charter school measure - like ESA proponents - say as taxpayers, they want more choice in how to educate their kids using money that would otherwise go to public schools they aren't using.

Both suits await action in state court.

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