Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
Moms and dads of Montana, choosing where your child goes to school is one of the biggest decisions you face. Whether you’re deciding about kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, or high school, it can feel confusing to sort through your options. Making the best decision for your child’s education starts with knowing all your options. In Montana, families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Stay informed on the latest school choice updates in Montana with our deep dive blog!
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
Montana Traditional Public Schools
Most children in Montana attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Did you know that Montana spends an average of $13,299 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
In general in Montana, the state allows each district to set its own open enrollment policies; the state only requires districts to offer open enrollment if parents live too far from their child’s assigned school. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can choose to send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located.
For an example of what the open enrollment process currently looks like, check out Missoula County Public Schools’ guidelines for attending a high school other than the one you are zoned for. In Montana, when an agreement between school districts is made allowing a student to participate in open enrollment, it includes transportation provisions.
A bill passed in 2023 will make important changes to public school transfer options starting next school year. The new law standardizes open enrollment in public schools across the state, making it easier (and guaranteeing it’s free) for families to choose the best public school fit for their child.
Montana parents should check with their local school district if they wish to participate in open enrollment. This is a valuable form of public school choice, widening parents options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education. Find out more about public schools in your state at the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
Montana Charter Schools
In 2023, Montana became the 46th state in the country to pass charter school laws. So far, Montana has just one charter school, the Bozeman Charter School, which currently offers remote learning and in-person field trips for students in grades 3-8.
Like traditional public schools, charter schools are public, free, and typically have no requirements for entry. What distinguishes charter schools is that they are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods and held accountable to authorizing bodies for results.
Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a language immersion program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system (like drawing random names out of a hat!) is usually used to determine admittance.
Montana Magnet Schools
Magnet schools are permitted in Montana, though there may not be any active magnet schools at present. These free public schools allow kids to focus on one specific theme, like STEM or the performing arts. The idea is that, if your child is passionate about a subject, they may learn best in an environment full of students who share that passion and classes that teach through the lenses of that main theme.
Montana Private Schools
You can also choose private school for your child! Montana families can choose from an array of private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. Montana’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs.
There are more than 120 private schools across the state of Montana. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $8,068 for elementary schools and $9,063 for high schools. Keep in mind that tuition costs can vary widely.
Montana’s first school choice program, a scholarship program funded by tax-credited donations, was launched in 2015. After the program’s legality was challenged by the Montana Supreme Court, the program was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark case, which ruled it constitutional in 2020. All students between the ages of five and 18 in Montana are eligible to apply for this program, which expanded in 2023. The average scholarship size received is about $2,200.
Starting in 2024, students with special needs will be eligible for a new education savings account scholarship. Participating families will receive about $6,800 in an online account for their child. These funds can be flexibly used for private school tuition, textbooks, curriculum, tutoring, education therapies, transportation or other approved learning expenses. Learn more in our full explainer!
Montana Online Learning
Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try.
While Montana does not currently have a free, full-time online learning option, Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) allows middle and high school students to take online classes on a part-time basis through their local school. In 2023, two bills passed expanding Montana Digital Academy’s mission and making it easier for schools offering online classes to offer those classes to out-of-district students. More than 4,000 Montana students took at least one online course through MTDA in 2020-2021.
Also, families in any state can choose from paid online learning providers for a full-time option. Paid online schools include George Washington University Online High School, The Keystone School, Excel High School, and K12 Private Academy.
In a few areas, families can also choose a district-run online school. For example, the Bozeman School District has a hybrid school for district students, and recently announced it will enroll out of district students for 2023-2024. Another district option (this one for grades 9-12) is Missoula Online Academy.
To read more about online learning in Montana, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Homeschooling is another important school option for Montana families. This choice allows for high levels of customized learning and flexibility. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and all 50 states allow it.
In Montana, the state requires notice of your intent to homeschool annually by the start of the year. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public school so your student is not marked truant. In the case that you decide to return to public school, contact your local school to find out their placement guidelines.
If you choose homeschooling, then you are required to teach the basic subjects taught in public schools, but you are not required to use specific standardized tests. Homeschooled students in Montana may be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at local public schools. In fact, a bill passed in 2023 clarified that homeschool students can enroll part-time in public schools, making it easier for families to blend home and public options.
Montana Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many Montana families are blending school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning and close-knit relationships, along with an emphasis on children as individual learners.
Here are a few real examples of microschools and related resources in Montana:
- Great Beginnings is a nature-based Montessori school and summer camp in Bozeman.
- Peak Potential Academy is a project-based learning school for middle schoolers in Bozeman.
- Opt Out is an intentionally small, “outside the box” learning program for Bozeman students in grades K-6. Opt Out combines project-based learning, outdoor education, Montessori, and Waldorf methods.
- Montana Hybrid Academy in Whitefish blends remote learning with “bushcraft” (homesteading).
Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school.
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