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, and homeschooling.
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 $14,229 per public school student each year?
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. 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.
Montana is currently one of the few states that do not have public charter schools, but charters may be in Montana’s future! 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.
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.
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. Alaska’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs.
Montana’s first school choice program was launched in 2015. In 2018, the Montana Supreme Court ruled the program unconstitutional. That ruling has been appealed and the case will soon be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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 allows all middle and high school students to take online classes on a part-time basis.
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. Check here for resources about homeschooling specific to Montana.
For additional information about school choices in Montana, visit these resources:
National School Choice Week 2020 will take place January 26 – February 1, 2020. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to sign up to receive a free box of NSCW supplies for celebrations in 2020. Click here for more information.
Montana celebrated National School Choice Week 2019 with 98 events and activities across the state.
"Shining a spotlight on effective educational options for every child"