Judge halts parts of Montana's new charter school law

The commission can convene, approve by-laws, and hire people.
Judge presides over courtroom case

A Montana judge has approved a preliminary injunction that partially halts parts of Montana’s new charter school law.

Also known as House Bill 562, the Community Choice Schools Act authorizes localities to establish charter schools and be overseen by a state charter commission that's part of Montana’s Board of Public Education.

The decision from District Judge Chris Abbott applies to Sections 5-16 of the CCSA and states that the Community Choice School Commission as called for in the law cannot at this time “approve or deny applications for authorizers or choice schools.” However, the commission can convene, approve by-laws, and hire people.

"The Court does not hold Plaintiffs have shown that charter schools or choice schools are themselves likely to be per se unconstitutional, nor does the Court offer any opinion on the policy debate over charter schools or choice in education generally: except in those limited circumstances where they intersect with the Constitution’s requirements, these are matters for the people’s elected representatives in the legislature," Abbott wrote.

"But the Court does find that Plaintiffs are likely to show in this litigation that in establishing choice schools, the State may not take oversight authority from the bodies constitutionally charged with supervising the public school system—the Board of Public Education and locally elected school boards—and give it instead to a body of the legislature’s own creation," the judge added.

Kendall Cotton, president and CEO of Frontier Institute, a Helena-based think tank, said in a statement the order "deprives Montana students of the opportunity for a quality public education that fits their unique learning needs."

"While this order is a temporary setback for Montana families who deserve to have their children access the same quality public education options available to families in 45 other states, we remain confident that the Community Choice Schools Act will ultimately be upheld by the court," Cotton added.

Trish Schreiber, a senior education fellow at Frontier Institute, said that "it's a relief" the judge saw no problem in allowing the Community Choice School Commission to “begin laying the groundwork” while this case progresses.

Schreiber was recently appointed chair of the Community Choice School Commission.

Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 562 into law in May. At the time, the governor said “government should never stand between parents and their kid’s education.” The governor added that Montana was empowering parents to “choose what’s best for their family and their kids.”