LWV of Montana and co-plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Montana state court asserting a new law creating a “community choice” school system violated several provisions of Montana’s state constitution by creating a parallel education system separate from state institutions and regulations overseeing the public school system, extending government funding to these community choice schools, and restricting who could vote for their governing boards.
Under Montana’s Constitution, the public school system is supervised and regulated at the state and local level. The Board of Public Education is charged with “general supervision over the public school system and such other public educational institutions as may be assigned by law.” In each school district, a board of trustees is elected to exercise supervision and control of schools.
Montana’s Constitution also contains several guarantees on public education, including:
On May 18, 2023, Governor Greg Gianforte signed HB562 into law. HB562 creates a new system of “community choice” schools. These community choice schools (“CCS”) are regulated and governed in ways that deviate significantly from Montana public school regulation.
- CCS’s are not directly overseen by the Montana state board of public education. Instead, they would be overseen by a statewide community choice school commission (“state CCS commission”)
- A new CCS would be created when the state CCS commission authorizes one, or a local school district board of trustees granted authority by the state CCS commission requests one.
- Except as provided by HB562, CCS’s would not be subject to the regulations and state laws governing public schools in Montana.
- CCS’s would be administered at the local level by a governing board according to the terms of a charter contract between it and the authority creating a CCS. Only parents or guardians of CCS students and CCS employees would be allowed to vote in elections for the governing board.
On June 14, 2023, LWV of Montana, the Montana Quality Education Coalition, and individual teachers, property owners, and voters filed a lawsuit in the First Judicial District Court in Lewis and Clark County, asserting HB562 violated the Montana Constitution by illegally usurping authority from state institutions that regulate schools, giving public funding to CCS’s, unlawfully restricting voting to parents/guardians and employees of CCS’s in CCS governing board elections, and impermissibly tampering with the state’s public schools fund.
The League is represented in this matter by Upper Seven Law.
LWV of Montana files lawsuit
LWV of Montana, the Montana Quality Education Coalition, and several individual voters and teachers file a state court lawsuit asserting HB562 violates the Montana Constitution.
Plaintiffs move for a preliminary injunction
The plaintiffs request a preliminary injunction, or temporary restraining order, preventing HB562 from going into effect while litigation continues. The motion asserts that unless the law is immediately enjoined, the plaintiffs will be injured when their tax dollars are diverted to fund the new school system created by HB562. The plaintiffs also argue CCS’s governance structure violates their state constitutional rights, an injury requiring immediate redress.
Court denies motion for temporary restraining order
The court denies the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order, ruling any injury associated with implementing the law and organizing the administration of CCS’s would not occur immediately once HB562 takes effect on July 1.
Court grants partial preliminary injunction against HB 562
The court partially enjoins HB 562, finding plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claims that it unlawfully usurps power from the Montana Board of Public Education, illegally undermines local school boards' authority, and violates the state constitution's equal protection clause. The order forbids the state CCS commission from processing CCS applications but allows the commission to meet, operate, and hire staff.