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June 29, 2023 -   By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact  News

 

Big Sky Connection - Parents and public school teachers have filed a lawsuit in state court to stop new, private-school legislation from going into effect. House Bill 562 creates so-called choice schools, which have separate boards and are not required to meet public school academic criteria. Comments from Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, executive director, Upper Seven Law.

Click on the image above for the audio.  There were 7,547 charter schools throughout the United States in the 2019-2020 school year, compared with 1,993 in the 2000-2001 school year, according to Statista. (Adobe Stock)

Educators say "choice schools" siphon money away from the state's public classrooms

Mark Moran

June 29, 2023 - A coalition of parents and public school teachers has sued to prevent the privatization of schools in Montana.

Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed House Bill 562, allowing for the creation of so-called "choice schools," which have a different set of criteria than regular public schools.

The bill would create these choice schools and, along with them, establish separate boards not accountable to state accreditation standards and therefore, critics argued, unconstitutional.

Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, executive director of Helena-based Upper Seven Law, said the measure also exempts privatized schools from state regulations providing for teacher certification, curriculum requirements and school safety regulations, right down to, and including, emergency health care provisions for Montana children.

"Things like concussion protocol. What do you do when a kid has a concussion? Teacher qualification is another one," Sommers-Flanagan outlined. "Making sure that teachers actually have qualifications that are consistent across the board and hopefully pretty high level. "

Sommers-Flanagan noted the structure is a first for Montana, and argued separate and unequal standards are unfair for Montana's public schools. Supporters said it gives the state's parents the freedom to choose the school which best suits their student's needs.

Sommers-Flanagan countered state lawmakers should not be allowed to funnel public money to private institutions, which is essentially what choice schools are, and contended the health of Montana society depends on a free, high-quality public education system. She added creating separate schools comes at the expense of regular K-12 classrooms.

"But what they will do is -- they will absolutely do is -- they will reduce the amount of money to existing public schools that have real standards," Sommers-Flanagan stressed.

The lawsuit asks a state judge to issue an injunction to keep the measure from going into effect.

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