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By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact - News


Big Sky Connection - Teachers are pushing back on a measure that would allow parents of special education students in Montana to use public school money for private education vouchers. Thirteen states nationwide have created Educational Savings Account (ESA) programs, which are costing some states more than twice what they budgeted. Comments from Amanda Curtis, president, the Montana Federation of Public Employees, which represents teachers.

Click on the image above for the audio.  Montana House Bill 393, which would create Educational Savings Accounts for special education students, is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2024. Critics vow to challenge it in court. (Adobe Stock)

Mark Moran

January 30, 2024 -The union that represents Montana teachers opposes a move to legalize private school vouchers in the state.

Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs, are growing in popularity around the country. ESAs allow people to use state money to pay private school tuition.

House Bill 393, which Montana lawmakers passed last year, is slightly different than in other states - in that the money would be limited to tuition vouchers for special education students.

Montana Federation of Public Employees' President Amanda Curtis said using state money for private schools leaves students without the protection of the Montana Constitution.

"This voucher system literally takes money on a 'per-kid' basis," said Curtis, "which de-funds the public education system and denies students their constitutional right to access a quality public system."

Supporters of the measure say students with special needs often do better at home or in private schools than in public schools. The Montana Legislature will next convene in 2025.

Thirteen states have passed some version of the ESA program, but Curtis contended the movement will ultimately fail on the national level.

She said she thinks Montana will follow suit because the state's decisionmakers have jumped on a trend and been influenced by outside groups.

"I am constantly concerned about some politicians in Montana," said Curtis, "allowing our policy decisions to be influenced by the national political rhetoric."

In most states that have passed them, ESAs are projected to cost the state more than double what the legislatures budgeted for them, effectively taking that money directly out of public school budgets.

Curtis said she has vowed to challenge Montana HB 393 in court.

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