Montana Could be the Next State to Adopt Charter Schools

This month, Kentucky became the 44th state to authorize charter schools, which are publicly funded schools that are operated by non-governmental entities. Will there be a 45th state to join the ranks of those with a charter school law any time soon? Possibly.

There are now six states without a charter school law in place: Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. Of those, three have a charter school authorization bill that has been introduced during the current legislative session.

One state in particular seems to have the most likelihood of following in Kentucky’s footsteps this session. The Montana House of Representatives passed House Bill 376, Public Charter Schools Act, with a vote of 55-44 in late February. The bill was heard by the Senate Education and Cultural Resources committee on March 27th but was not voted on at that time. Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy (D) is the primary sponsor of the bill.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Establishes the public charter school commission, which would be the sole charter school authorizer in the state.

    • The commission would be made up of the state superintendent of public instruction along with two representatives each appointed by the governor, speaker of the house, and president of the senate.
    • The commission is required to be geographically diverse among all the members.
    • Members of the commission “must collectively possess substantial experience and expertise in educations design, leadership, assessment, curriculum, and instruction. All members of the commission must have a demonstrated understanding of and commitment to charter schools as a strategy for strengthening public education in Montana.”
  • Funds public charter under the same formula as district schools.
  • Requires that charter schools “meet or exceed the educational outcomes of noncharter public schools” as a condition for maintaining their charters.
  • States that charter schools must exclusively serve children who are residents of the district that the charter is in or who is attending outside their district in accordance with current law.
  • Exempts charter schools from general supervision of the board of public education and accreditation standards.
  • Provides school district trustees the ability to submit a charter school proposal to the commission. Trustees are required to hold a public hearing to discuss a charter school proposal if twenty percent of district voters sign a petition requesting the creation of a charter school.
  • Outlines the content of charter school proposals, which includes demonstrating the need and community support for the charter and describing how the school will serve disadvantaged student groups.
  • Requires that the commission monitor the performance of all public charter schools and publish an annual report on their status.

Two other states also have proposed charter school authorization bills that have been introduced this session. Nebraska LB630, Adopt the Independent Public Schools Act, was introduced in February by primary sponsor Senator Tyson Larson. It was heard before the education committee on March 14th but was not voted on by the committee. West Virginia has dual charter school bills in the House (HB2572) and the Senate (S200), neither of which has been heard in committee yet. In 2015, the West Virginia Senate passed a charter school authorization bill, Senate Bill 14, but it failed to gain traction in the House.