Montana School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: June 1, 2023

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, private schools, online academies, homeschooling, and learning pods.

Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Montana at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.

While not active options in Montana, most states also offer public charter schools and public magnet schools.

COVID-19 Update:

MCH Strategic Data, in partnership with Esri, have created a map to keep you informed of the rapid changes and impact of COVID-19 on school reopening plans and operations at the district level.  This resource tracks school district reopening data, learning models, sports participation, distance learning investments, and more.  Updates are made daily and new, timely insights will be added as the data is available. View the map below or on the MCH Strategic Data website.

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COVID-19 IMPACT: School Districts Status Updates for Fall 2020, current as of 11/13/2020, by MCH Strategic Data.  Compiled from public federal, state and local school districts information and media updates.

The Office of Public Instruction for the State of Montana released Reopening Montana School Guidance: Putting Montana Students First as a way to help schools plan for how to reopen safely. Four reopening scenarios are included in the document as guidance for schools:

  1. Scenario 1 (buildings closed, remote learning)
  2. Scenario 2 (limited number of students in the building, remote learning for all others)
  3. Scenario 3 (increased capacity/number of students in the building, limited activities for social distancing, and remote learning for the others)
  4. Scenario 4 (near full capacity/full operations, remote learning for any remaining off-site students).

These are state-level guidelines and recommendations, check with your local district for specifics regarding how they plan to reopen safely!

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Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.

      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 $12,101 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. But, starting in 2024, open enrollment will become standardized, making it easier (and guaranteeing it’s free) for families to transfer between public schools. If you wish to make a public school transfer, contact your local school district to see if this is an option for you.

      For an example of what the open enrollment process may look 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. 

      Montana parents 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 allow charter schools. While no charter schools have opened their doors yet in Montana, stay tuned for updates! 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

      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 110 private schools across the state of Montana. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $8,121 for elementary schools and $8,117 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, though the average scholarship value has been relatively small ($500) in the past. In 2021, the state expanded the tax credits available, which has increased scholarship availability.

      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 at ACE Montana and Private School Review: Montana.

       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. 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 SchoolThe 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 expanding Bozeman School District has an established online high school for district students, and recently added an online charter school for students in grades K-8. Another district option is Missoula Online Academy.

      To read more about online learning in Montana, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

      Montana Homeschooling

      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. As of 2021, homeschooled students in Montana may be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at local public schools!

      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.

      Find more resources about homeschooling specific to Montana at the Home School Legal Defense Association.

      Montana Learning Pods

      Micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize.  Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. It’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it.  Learn more about learning pods.

      Self-Directed Pods:

      If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in Montana. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA.

      If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have parents or other teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Montana classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.

      Learning Support Pods:

      If your child is enrolled in an existing online school or local public, charter, or private school, and uses that school’s curriculum under the supervision of an adult in a learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school.

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      Education Resources for Montana Parents

      For additional information about school choices in Montana, visit these resources: 


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