Every year somewhere between 1500 and 1600 students fail to graduate from high schools in Montana.   But that’s okay, at least most of them graduated, right?  Wrong!  Most of us would say that’s completely unacceptable.  Most of us would demand that those 1500 kids get as good an education as everyone else.

This week, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau released her report on Montana’s public school dropout rates. For those of us who are policy wonks it makes fascinating reading!  According to this report, “The economy of Montana would see a combination of crime-reduction savings and additional revenue of about $19.6 million each year if the male high school graduation rate increased by just 5 percent.”  The report goes on to state, “Almost 30% of Montana’s high school dropouts meet the federal definition of low-income, which is twice the rate of high school graduates.”

 My question is this, why aren’t we offering some options to those kids who drop out?  Why don’t we give them the chance to try something different?

 For the past two weeks the Montana education establishment has sent out press release after press release, raking the Montana Family Foundation over the coals because we support school choice.  They’ve even gone so far as to say we want to destroy the public school system.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We simply look at numbers like those mentioned above, declare them unacceptable and look for workable solutions.  Montana is one of only eight remaining states with no school choice.  Other states are leaving us in the dust and it’s time that changed.

 Montana’s public schools serve most students just fine – 85 percent of them, according to the report. But there are unquestionably some students who are not being well-served. They’re in danger of dropping out, and it’s those students who are the best argument for school choice.

 Seeing that nearly 15% of Montana high school students don’t successfully graduate in four years, there will be a certain faction in the legislature who will propose the same old solutions that have been tried for years in Montana:

 “Put more money into the current system.”

“Force kids to stay in the current system longer.”

 But there’s an old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. My question is, if we want real change in the lives of these kids, why not try something different?  Why not try the solutions that are already working in other states?

On example is Public Charter Schools.  They’re already working well in 42 states. If there’s a young man who’s failing in the public schools, and just needs a different environment, a charter schools could offer it to him.

The way charter schools work is that a group of citizens – maybe a trade union, a local community college or even a local public school district can gather together for the purposes of forming a school that works differently. They may focus on the arts or technology or the trades, but all provide a solid core curriculum.   Once the new school passes all the important regulatory hurdles, the local school board can fund it and they can begin helping students succeed.

Charter schools have been tried in almost every other state in America, Presidents as different as George W. Bush and Barack Obama favor charter schools.  Why?  Because they work and they help kids.  When 1500 to 1600 students regularly fail to graduate, it’s time to set aside ideology and special interest group politics.  It’s time to stop doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

It’s time to look for real solutions and alternatives, public charter schools would be a good place to start.