In October, an unprecedented event took place. Twenty-six charter school applications were submitted to the Montana Board of Public Education (BPE) for consideration.

These 26 applications represent a remarkable statewide initiative to introduce charter schools to the Treasure State, something the education establishment has resisted for 31 years. During that time, 45 other states have passed charter laws and 7,800 charter schools have opened their doors to 3.7 million students across America. Earlier this year, an authoritative national study of charter schools found that they are outperforming traditional public schools in reading and mathematics.

While we applaud this seeming embrace of public charter schools, it raises 4 obvious questions: (1) what does it take to build a successful charter school? (2) who is applying for these 26 charters and why? (3) what does this development mean for Montana? and (4) what do Montanans want from charter schools?

As the 46th state to allow charter schools, Montanans are fortunate to be able to look across the country and learn about the conditions that support successful charter schools. For our third article in this twelve-part monthly series, we want to address these questions by drawing a stark contrast between what is happening in Montana right now and what we know – from national experience – it takes to establish a high-quality charter school sector.

In doing so, we hope to understand if Montana is on the right track. The Frontier Institute defines education freedom as “a system of permissionless innovation where both families and educators have the ultimate freedom to cooperate and create education models tailored to meet the unique needs of every child.” We want to explore whether or not Montana stands to advance this vision.