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House panel hears charter school debate

2011-03-17T00:20:00Z House panel hears charter school debateBy ALANA LISTOE Independent Record Helena Independent Record
March 17, 2011 12:20 am  • 

Proponents of a bill that would provide public funding to charter schools say the law would give families much needed options, while opponents say it would take away dollars from the already strapped budgets of Montana’s public school districts.

The House Education Committee heard about three hours of testimony Wednesday afternoon on House Bill 603 introduced by Rep. Mark Blasdel, R-Somers.

The bill would authorize the establishment of public charter schools as a means of providing additional educational opportunities. It would also establish authorizers, autonomy and funding of the schools.

“Forty other states have this option in their state, and it’s working,” Blasdel said.

Jeff Laszloffy and Debra Lamm of the Montana Family Foundation spoke in favor of the legislation as an alternative for the 2,000 students who drop out in this state every year.

“We have a crisis in education that extends here to Montana as well,” he said. “We need options and this bill provides the option”

Laszloffy asked, “Why do we think we can solve our problems with worn-out solutions we’ve used in the past?”

Lamm worked with Blasdel to draft the bill said charters would be small, community-based schools that have a high degree of achievement responsibility while providing administrators freedom to make swift decisions.

Lisa Grover — a former teacher, the senior director of state advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the founder of one of the first charter high schools in New Mexico — spoke in favor of the bill. She gave a presentation Tuesday night at the Residence Inn about the advantages of charter schools.

Grover credits the law enacted in her home state with allowing her to start the school that has been ranked by Newsweek as one of the top performing 1,200 highs schools in the country and testified that she supports the bill currently under consideration in the Treasure State.

“This bill offers clear guidelines to opening and operating charter schools,” she said.

Helena mother Theresa Lode said the public schools are not meeting the needs of her children.

“The current education models are 150 years old … it’s clear everything has changed except our education models, and it’s failing our children,” Lode said.

Retired Helena teacher Barbara Rush said charter schools would provide much needed parental involvement.

Cary Hegreberg, executive director of the Montana Contractors’ Association, said such schools could provide focused learning and career paths for trades such as construction.

Many school officials, including the assistant superintendent for the Office of Public Instruction, the Helena District Superintendent, and the president of the largest union in the state (for educators), spoke in opposition to the bill.

All say it’s unconstitutional and claim the $250,000 estimated start-up costs are grossly underestimated.

They are concerned about how the schools would be governed, the possibility of preferential selection of students who would attend, and who would authorize such schools.

A school trustee from Kalispell said if approved the bill would create duplication of government — another whole system to manage students here, when they are performing in the top 10 percent nationally.

Darrell Rud, executive director of the Montana School Administrators, said there is data to prove just about anything and many charter schools have closed because of lack of academic success and funding.

Chris Puyear with the Montana Rural Education Association testified he is extremely concerned about funding as well as cherry picking the students who are high performing for the charters and leaving the others, with high needs and higher costs, for the public schools to educate.

“There are already options … school choice exists in Montana,” he said.

Barb Riley, a school trustee from Columbia Falls, said the concepts are not Montana based.

“We can’t apply urban behavior to the frontier demographics of Montana,” she said. “We need to focus on the kids we have with our resources.”

Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, said he doesn’t understand why Montanans would take the advice of out-of-staters. He said Montana is only one of five states that don’t have a sales tax, but that doesn’t mean voters want it.

Feaver also said what is being proposed is not public at all.

“We are talking about private charter school with a public veneer,” he said.

There is already a law allowing for charter schools in Montana but HB603 would create a public charter school commission that would work as an independent state agency with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority.

Executive action is expected by the committee sometime next week.

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(28) Comments

  1. honeygetm'gun
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    honeygetm'gun - April 23, 2011 8:10 am
    Huh... Barb Rush wants charter schools AND wants to run public schools. Looks kinda like putting the baboons in charge of the zoo to me. Note to self: appoint someone to the school board who WON'T sabotage the institution.
  2. Joe Montana
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    Joe Montana - March 23, 2011 1:30 pm

    Please do some basic internet research regarding charter schools. Charter schools nationwide have proven to be little more than pots of $ money $ for those who run them, funded by taxpayers.

    Nepotism and cronyism are rampantly found in investigations of charter schools. The children are not the priority, jobs for the adults are, and are highly sought after.

    Most parents would love for their children to attend quality "Private Schools," but cannot afford them. Charter schools are advertised as almost a free version of a private school. They are NOT.

    Charter schools are famous for claiming more students than they have (to receive more taxpayer funding), corruption that would blow your socks off, educator's who are not even licensed, and more.

    Please, do your own investigation. Try a basic google or internet search: "Charter School Investigated"

    These are simply BUSINESSES, and your children are the product.

    CHARTER SCHOOLS = BU$INE$$ and that is all.
  3. The Porter
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    The Porter - March 23, 2011 3:08 am
    Outlaw said on: March 17, 2011, 7:56 am
    Competition is very good, especially in this case. The schools need to start competing with the rest of the world not the other states.

    YES INDEED!!!! We are part of a new global system whether we like it or not. The District has no business letting our kids be left in the dust of the current global education situation.
  4. The Porter
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    The Porter - March 23, 2011 3:05 am
    Whomever those people are who say charter schools are unconstitutional, have No business working as educators in the school system or as legislators. Apparently they have never read the US Constitution.
    We The People have the Inherent Right to choose how our children are educated and what they learn.

    MT5678 is right about the charter schools.

    Charter school are not a fad that faded away. In the former city of my residence the school board got out of hand, one of the members was a mother who didn't like that her own child had failed, so she went on a rampage and caused an immense volume of children to be failed at the public protests of the parental masses.

    After two years or tyranical abuses by the board, these parents got together and started their own charter school.
    It was both legally recognized and funded in exactly the same way as the public schools. The children began going there, began logging higher grades than that of the public schools both locally and statewide. These kids were offered increasingly better opportunities for scholarships and so on.

    Surely there are charter schools that don't run so well. Every system has it owns failures. Our current District is an example of precisely 'why' we need charter schools here in Helena. My God! We had a housing boom here for years and no new schools were built!!!!
    The schools have not been properly repaired during the current Superintendant's entire term!
    More than 80 % of the schools in the District have had 'duct tape' holding the caprets together on the floors for 8 years! This has been going on since my kids were in elementary and middle school.
    Yet the Superintendent continues to get raises every time we turn around. Every raise he got, could have paid for a new classroom carpet.
    If you put a person's name on everything that results due to their personal actions, then everyone knows 'who did it'.
    To get action we need charter schols or we need to take pictures of every carpet with duct tape in the District, print the Sueprintendant's name across the front with the dates of his term as such, and take out a full page ad in the paper for them to be printed in, send copies of them off to the US Dept.Of Education 1990 K Street, NW. Washington DC, 20006) a set to the governor's office, and send complete sets to the legislators here and to his alumni back in Nebraska. Then start all over with the other things like the broken urinals. And BTW this has nothing to do with needing another tax levy for it. They are got one for this years ago. The District also recently got three hundred thousand dollars that never went to any of these things. We got some landscaping and exterior decorating to make it 'appear' that they were spending our money wisely.
    I doubt we will ever get our money's worth back until we get rid of him or start up new schools. Enrollment would tell the tale.
  5. helenros
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    helenros - March 22, 2011 7:37 am
    Purple, I'm not worried about new spending; I'm worried that if we siphon existing money away from lean public school budgets, we will create a problem where there wasn't one before. Enrollment losses don't translate to huge cost savings, because the schools still have the same infrastructure. The heating and maintenance bills are still there; you still need the same number of teachers to cover the variety of subjects, you still need administrators. Sure, you spend a wee bit less on hot lunches and photocopies, but those empty desks have a baseline cost.
  6. Purple
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    Purple - March 19, 2011 9:29 pm
    helenros said: ""Failing inner city schools," do not exist in Montana. We don't HAVE inner cities, and our public schools are among the best in the US. The state already is having a budget crisis, so why would we spend money "fixing," something which isn't even broken?"

    Not much in new money will be spent on charter schools. The money the state spends on existing schools will be REDUCED to fund charter schools since there will be far fewer students enrolled in public schools thus the need by public schools to continue to receive the same funding will also be reduced.

    What is truly needed in the entire education system is a major and massive overhaul. Overhaul or eliminate the tenure system. Make it easier to get rid of incompetent teachers.
  7. ohohmrbill
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    ohohmrbill - March 18, 2011 9:47 pm
    Just google Gulen Charter Schools
  8. ohohmrbill
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    ohohmrbill - March 18, 2011 9:46 pm
    Charter Schools are not the answer. Be warned Montana now that you have opened the gate these guys will be coming in soon.
  9. helenros
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    helenros - March 18, 2011 7:33 am
    "Failing inner city schools," do not exist in Montana. We don't HAVE inner cities, and our public schools are among the best in the US. The state already is having a budget crisis, so why would we spend money "fixing," something which isn't even broken?
  10. caribouboy
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    caribouboy - March 17, 2011 10:15 pm
    Limber said: "The real problem in our education system is not solved by charter schools, only rearranged. Charter school enrollments are propelled only by self-initiative. Self-initiative means the parent of the student, not the student himself. Thus, which students succeed is entirely a function of who the parents are. As a result, Students whose parents do not take initiative or are not interested, don't get the opportunities. Sadly, this is this same pool of children who typically are the under-performing right now. The sum of under achievement in our entire population is not impacted at all. So nothing really changes much, except one thing: we institutionalize the alienation between socioeconomic classes in our society. This is not a solution to our national problem!"

    So instead you'd relegate the kids who have the ability and desire to improve to the failing inner city schools with the kids who are already under performing. I say let the overachievers out and help them in any way we can. The remainder need to be taught how to cut hair or waitress or be a mechanic or a bank teller. Help them at least have some kind of trade when they get out of school and get them out by the time they're 16.
  11. patriot
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    patriot - March 17, 2011 7:57 pm
    This may come as a surprise, but I agree with most of your summaryexcept for "So nothing really changes much, except one thing: we institutionalize the alienation between socioeconomic classes in our society". Charter schools are for the most part publically funded. Parents involved with their childrens education is now and always has been the answer. Charters schools are not established based on parents net worth, but a desire to provide an alternative to traditional schooling. The reality that many parents low on the economic scale do take interest in the kids education and many succeed beyond expectations. I am all for teachers and kids in public schools. Not sure if a charter school is necessary in Helena, the education kids recieve is excellent, the dropout rate relates to the interest of parents. Without parental involvement it is just more difficult. Teachers want to succeed and the metric is the success of their students.
  12. farside
    Report Abuse
    farside - March 17, 2011 7:34 pm
    Just love how the tons of "out-of staters" flowing into mt started changing everything-oh by the way, food for thought. Helena pop. per the numbers recorded has grown ~10,000 people OVER 40 YEARS! Something is just wrong here, all these problems and yet we act as we are overwhelmed. Time to get back to basics
  13. Bright minds
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    Bright minds - March 17, 2011 7:10 pm
    I am from this State. I pay taxes in this State. I still have rights in this State. I still say Hi to everyone and love our State. I know for a fact that there is a single classroom school in a church that is ran by the parents with a board made of parents that is not affliated to the church and does not teach religion. It works and has worked for over ten years at least. I'm know scholarships are provided for lower income families kids. This is happening in your State. If I send my kids to a private school do the taxes that are going to the public school go towards my kids tuition? I'm against the field trips and Artists because of the cost and imbalance with key classes like Science. I know several retired Artists that are happy to volunteer however, the school won't use them. The school would rather pay top dollar.
  14. dotheresearch
    Report Abuse
    dotheresearch - March 17, 2011 6:26 pm website to check your school crt test scores
    for math and reading

    from the Messinger letter on the school district website

    The new program incorporates student performance on state assessment which is a new dimension for school funding legislation in Montana. I am cautious about connecting school funding to test scores and I am pleased Montana has resisted this strategy in the past. Although the language included in this bill is fairly reasonable, I worry about what future legislators might do with this approach and it could quickly turn into punitive accountability measures based on test scores resulting in a narrowing of the educational experience for students.

    If you ask me Messinger is scared to get money based on test scores because we do ok in reading but our math scores are not good. This will make the district stop the games and teach. I guess they are afraid of teaching our students who are not passing even 4 grade level math. I believe Jim Darcy is between 30-40% of students in 4th grade that can pass math scores. Yet the district wonders why kids drop out. They are not even engaged in the 4th grade. There is 8 years of school left and they have already lost a huge part of students in some schools. GET BACK TO TEACHING THE BASICS. Messinger should be worried about the future approach because he knows how bad the scores are and that there will be money lost due to poor testing.
  15. MTNative79
    Report Abuse
    MTNative79 - March 17, 2011 5:17 pm
    Montana was a great state, now the rest of the country is laughing at us. (I would know because I've been visiting many other states and people in all of them so far have made comments about our house of reps.) Once the people who came to Montana from other states started bringing there politics with them is when our state became a joke. If you don't like the way Montana is/was then just leave. Find a state that meets your needs. Don't come and change the way we do things here. Montana was an easy going place where people would say hi to one another regardless if they were friends or not.Now, because of all the out of stater's that have moved in, they just look at you funny. So point is, if you want your kids to go to a charter school then move to a place that has them. Don't change the way we do things in Big Sky Country.... LEAVE OUR STATE ALONE!
  16. Limber
    Report Abuse
    Limber - March 17, 2011 3:17 pm
    The real problem in our education system is not solved by charter schools, only rearranged. Charter school enrollments are propelled only by self-initiative. Self-initiative means the parent of the student, not the student himself. Thus, which students succeed is entirely a function of who the parents are. As a result, Students whose parents do not take initiative or are not interested, don't get the opportunities. Sadly, this is this same pool of children who typically are the under-performing right now. The sum of under achievement in our entire population is not impacted at all. So nothing really changes much, except one thing: we institutionalize the alienation between socioeconomic classes in our society. This is not a solution to our national problem!
  17. MT5678
    Report Abuse
    MT5678 - March 17, 2011 12:44 pm
    Charter Schools are public schools. They are funded in the same manner as traditional schools. They're not sponsored by religious groups (at least the none to my knowledge) and they're not run by a voucher system. This is my knowledge of other state laws. I haven't read MT's proposal Charter School Law. Lotteries and vouchers are two different things.

    IMO: Are Charter Schools the end-all-be-all to education reform--No! Can they be apart of the equation--yes! Traditional public school have there place and so do Charter schools. Click on these links to read more about common myths about Charter Schools and just general information.
  18. mtmom777
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    mtmom777 - March 17, 2011 12:33 pm
    Has any of the parents who commented here stopped to wonder WHY charter schools have a "better" track record? Besides the documentary "Waiting for Superman," do you really know anything about charter schools? To start, they are usually privately funded (i.e. tuition, fundraisers, etc). Second, they are definitely a smaller community which means more one-on-one attention. Third, they provide quality field trips, guests, and creative curriculum.

    What!? Yes (@Bright minds) - field trips and guests. Do you really think the level of education would be raised if we cut out all varied forms of education and stuck to the test? Seriously?

    As a teacher in the public and private school system, I believe that money needs to be funneled in more productive ways, that schools and classrooms need to be smaller and more community-minded, and that more varied education opportunities should be presented. So here's a novel thought, why not put the money the legislature is proposing for a charter school system to the school system we have in place? Why not have parents take the initiative and step up in the classroom?

    What is the difference between a public school system and a public charter school system?

    But I forgot.....the legislature cut millions of dollars from the education budget a couple weeks ago. Darn. So now how will we pay for a new system?
  19. Countryboy
    Report Abuse
    Countryboy - March 17, 2011 11:43 am
    Purple & others, I am all for our children getting a quality, competitive education here in Montana, but you are just throwing out garbage here. Most of the charter schools that were started in other states in the late '90s were closed due to mismanagement and lack of interest. Once the "newness" wore off the parents realized that having a charter schools did not lead to higher achievement. Yes, there are some that are successful just as there are many public schools that are successful. OPI would have a say about these schools as the schools would still have to test and teach the minimum curriculum. The only trouble is that the oversight of this would be tougher to accomplish. You still need quality teachers to achieve high results, where would they come from? Most importantly, don't forget that public schools have to teach ALL children, even those that are disabled, have bad parents or no parents,etc. Public schools are not afforded the luxury of only trying to educate the children that want to learn.
  20. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - March 17, 2011 10:55 am
    I plead ignorance; I just don't know, so somebody knowledgeable on the issue please help me.

    Would it allow charter schools sponsored by religious or parochial groups? And would they get public tax money?

    For example, if Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church (Google it) moved to Montana, could he start a charter school on the public's dime?

    Thank you.
  21. pattyg
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    pattyg - March 17, 2011 10:20 am
    Personally, I'd rather have my tax dollars go to Family Planning clinics than pay for charter schooling. There are many choices for parents in Helena other than the public school. There is a Christian School, private schools, and even for those who have a hard time learning in a hostile environment, PAL. Why have more? If these parents don't want to send their kids to public schools, then they should pay to send them elsewhere. My two kids graduated from the Helena Public School system, the teachers went out of their way to assist my kids, providing them with the tools the needed to graduate. I am happy with the sdhool system as it is, even with sex ed, a much needed tool in today's society.
  22. J
    Report Abuse
    J - March 17, 2011 9:05 am
    If you remember only one thing, remember that competition is good. Having charter schools will cause the public schools to "improve their game" in order to survive. "Waiting for Superman".
  23. Babyzilla
    Report Abuse
    Babyzilla - March 17, 2011 8:37 am
    If anyone wants to show their support for this bill, call 444-4800 and tell them you want to place your support for HB603. The message will get sent to "the education committee".
  24. Babyzilla
    Report Abuse
    Babyzilla - March 17, 2011 8:29 am
    That's the beauty of charter schools. OPI won't have any input in how the schools are governed. The founders and the parents and teachers get to decide how they want their schools to run. I'm excited for some new options for schools
  25. Bright minds
    Report Abuse
    Bright minds - March 17, 2011 7:57 am
    I think Charter schools are a great option. I'm tired of seeing the money that is available going into ridiculous field trips and artists in the school. I want my kids to be ready for college. Montana has always been backwards we are not a frontier or a rual community we are a developed state that is growing.
    Cherry picking is a lame excuse the public schools are pushing kids forward without good English, Math and do I dare mention science(serious lack of). I've been appart of school fundraisers and what a joke.They don't want parent envolement they say they do but actions and attitudes show clearly they don't.I refuse to support the Sex
    Ed. agenda the public school is pushing its, wrong on many levels. I will be my childs advocate and future children. Parents need come together and demand how are kids are being taught and what. Lets raise the bar not lower educations standards.
  26. Outlaw
    Report Abuse
    Outlaw - March 17, 2011 7:56 am
    Competition is very good, especially in this case. The schools need to start competing with the rest of the world not the other states.
  27. Purple
    Report Abuse
    Purple - March 17, 2011 7:52 am
    Charter schools have a proven track record of providing a higher quality of education than public schools provide.

    Of course public school educators are going to be p/o'd at the loss of funds. Gee, you think maybe if public school educators were better qualified to teach, the quality of education they provide would be better?

    To public school educators it is all about MONEY. Providing quality education comes in a distance 4th or 5th behind pay, benefits, and tenure.
  28. FrankD
    Report Abuse
    FrankD - March 17, 2011 6:59 am
    "Cherry Picking", "out-of-stater" ideas, Montana doesn't have a sales tax...... The unions and their liberal/progressive freinds always resort to EMOTIONAL counter claims when they can not refute facts. The bane of our education system is an institution that is more concerned with money and jobs than the product. The product is our children. Could you imagine what our product would look like if our education system was truly a part of the supply and demand system known as capiltalism? Imagine no medicrity, a teacher selling his/her wares to the highest bidder. Why did BHO disband the voucher system in DC for schools of the capitalist system, when he himself sends his kids to one? He participates but refuses the poor and disadvantaged to participate.

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