Written Public Comment To BPE 1.16.24

Written Public Comment To BPE 1.16.24

Promises made by public charter schools should be promises kept.

The following is a copy of a written public comment letter submitted to the Montana Board of Public Education for consideration at their Jan 18-19, 2024 meeting. 

January 16th 2023

Montana Board of Public Education
46 N Last Chance Gulch, Suite 2B
PO Box 200601
Helena, MT 59620

RE: January 18-19 Agenda Items #4 and #33

Dear Board Members,

Public charter school programs in other states are successful when authorizers hold charter schools to a higher standard than traditional public schools.[1] Public Charter Schools make a promise to the public that their program will deliver better results, with less funding, in return for flexibility to innovate with business models, staffing, and programming. When a charter school fails to meet financial, enrollment, or performance goals, their charter is revoked or nonrenewed. This dynamic ensures increased accountability, which in turn raises the quality of education provided.

We support enabling additional education options like public charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools in Montana precisely because doing so adds more accountability to our public education system and demands higher quality performance.

In choosing to approve an application for a public charter school, your board recognizes the promise of an applicant to deliver higher quality performance than the status quo in Montana public schools. As the Board considers agenda Items #4 and #33, we ask this board to commit to ensuring any applicants that are approved see this promise through.

We remind this board that upon approving an application, Montana’s Public Charter School Act requires a charter contract to be executed within 45 days that “clearly sets forth the academic and operational performance expectations and measures by which the public charter school will be judged.”[2] At a minimum, this performance framework includes annual performance targets for key indicators such as academic proficiency and achievement, enrollment, attendance, postsecondary readiness, and financial performance.[3] Per the Montana Public Charter School Act, if a public charter school has “failed to meet or make sufficient progress toward the performance expectations” their charter contract can and should be revoked or nonrenewed.[4]

At present, we are deeply concerned at the lack of detail available in most of the public charter school applications ranked in the highest tier of consideration by this board. If any applications are approved, we urge the board to at a minimum adopt a transparent standard practice of requiring all charter contracts to establish a baseline to measure increased performance. The adoption of standard practices such as this should have been completed before considering applications, as the law states “In reviewing and evaluating charter proposals, the board shall employ procedures, practices, and criteria consistent with nationally recognized best practices, principles, and standards” for the authorization of Public Charter Schools.[5]\

As of yet, there is no evidence of the Board having consulted or contracted with a nationally recognized membership organization or contractor to guide these best practices as the law demands. Nor, is there evidence of the Board adopting rules or policies to guide the performance framework before considering applications.

Nationally recognized best practices will ensure Public Charter Schools approved by this Board are held accountable for their promise to provide higher quality education to Montana students.

Lastly, the law also states that in deciding to approve charter proposals, the Board shall “only approve charters whose promise of improved educational outcomes outweighs potential increased costs to the state and local taxpayers.”[6] Many of the Public Charter School applications are filed from districts where taxpayers denied levies and are very concerned about their property taxes. If the board fails to adopt nationally recognized standards for Public Charter Schools it approves, it would be an extreme disservice to our students and local taxpayers.

Promises made by public charter schools should be promises kept. Montanans are counting on you to get this right.

In Liberty,

Kendall Cotton

President & CEO


[1] CREDO (Stanford University), As a Matter of Fact: The National Charter School Study III 2023.

[2] § 20-6-806, MCA

[3] § 20-6-809, MCA

[4] § 20-6-810, MCA

[5] § 20-6-805, MCA

[6] § 20-6-805(6)(e), MCA

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