Montana’s Public Schools do a great job for most students, but as every parent knows, children aren’t all the same. One likes to run, the other likes to sit in the corner with a book. One likes to play videogames while the other prefers football. And while most do very well in public schools, there are some who do not.

Unfortunately, nearly 15,000 students drop out of Montana schools every year. So what’s the solution when one of our wildly diverse youngsters isn’t thriving in their public school? Forty-two other states have implemented various forms of school choice. School choice refers to a broad range of policy proposals aimed at providing some diversity in the field of education. As great as Montana’s public schools are, it’s unrealistic to hold them to a standard where they have to be the perfect fit for every single child. Some children just need a different environment and school choice is about providing options.

January 24th – 30th  was National School Choice week. The time when parents, student, and policy makers from across the nation celebrate the concept of a perfect educational fit for each and every child. Here in Montana the past year saw some exciting progress on school choice. The legislature passed Senate Bill 410 which allows a tax credit for donations by private individuals to private scholarship funds that can pay for students to attend private schools. This is exactly what school choice is all about. If our kids are struggling is a standard public school, then privately funded scholarships can help them afford that work. Lawmakers said, “It’s working in other states, and it can work in Montana too.”

Unfortunately Governor Bullock’s Department of Revenue threw a monkey wrench in the works claiming tax credits were the same thing as government spending and arguing that the bill was an unconstitutional appropriation of public dollars to religious schools. They then passed rules barring any religious schools from participating, that’s over 95% of the private high schools in the state. Fortunately, this issue has been litigated all the way to the United States Supreme Court which rules tax credits are not appropriations, and therefor tax credit scholarships are perfectly constitutional. Law suits challenging the Montana Department of Revenues action have been filed in both state and federal court, and we anticipate a quick and decisive victory!

Another form of school choice is public charter schools – they are public schools typically emphasizing a particular discipline such as the arts, technology, science, or a particular trade. Charter schools have more freedom to innovate and they’re also held to a higher standard of accountability.

Another cutting edge idea is education savings accounts where 70-90% of the dollars traditionally used to educate a child are put into an account to be used at any accredited school of the family’s choice. Since we spend roughly twelve thousand dollars on average each year to educate a child, these dollars add up fast, and any money leftover can be spent on college tuition.

School choice has always been controversial when someone has a monopoly, competition looks scary. The end result though is that everyone improves; the public schools, the alternatives, and most of all our kids. Forty-two other states have school choice and last year, Montana became the 43rd. Join us as we seek to ensure that every child is allowed to find their perfect educational fit!