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As Montana paves way for charter schools, study finds charter students outperform public students

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(The Center Square) – After Montana lawmakers paved the way for charter schools to open in the state, a new national report found charter school students performed better than students in traditional public schools.

Last month, Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill into law that will allow “community choice schools” to be established in the state. Neighboring Wyoming also doesn’t currently have charter schools.

Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) recently released the third edition of its study, which found that from 2015 to 2019, “tested students enrolled in all charter schools in the 31 states had reading and math gains that outpaced their peers in the [traditional public schools] that charter school students otherwise would have attended.”

The study added: “Charter schools produce superior student gains despite enrolling a more challenging student population than their adjacent TPS. They move Black and Hispanic students and students in poverty ahead in their learning faster than if they enrolled in their local TPS.”

Chris Cargill, president and CEO of the Idaho-based Mountain States Policy Center, told The Center Square the study’s results show more charter schools are needed.

“They certainly are improving student outcomes, especially in inner city areas and in areas that have more of a population,” he said. “Public charter schools are having an impact and we need more of them quite frankly.”

“It’s going to take a little while to get them up and running in Montana, but they’re on the way,” Cargill noted.

Idaho has approximately 50 public charter schools, while Washington state has 17.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools defines public charter schools as tuition-free public schools that are open to all students regardless of where they live. The model “empowers teachers to provide innovative, high-quality instruction and gives them the autonomy to design a classroom that fits their students’ needs,” according to the group.

The National Education Association and other critics of charters claim they undermine “local public schools and communities,” have little oversight, and do not lead to help students learn or grow. NEA published information last year demanding the end of federal funding for public charter schools.

Cargill sees things differently.

“They have much more accountability because a public charter school doesn’t perform the public charter school closes,” he said. “When was the last time you ever heard about the public-school closing because it didn’t perform?”

Cargill added that claims that public charter schools only take “the cream of the crop” have been debunked many times.

“Many public charter schools actually have a lottery because there’s so many students on a waiting list to get in,” Cargill said. “And from our perspective, the money doesn’t belong to the school, it belongs to the students and improving the students’ outcome, so you know it doesn’t really matter if that student goes to charter school A or public school B, if they’re getting a good education that’s where the money should flow.”

Montana’s new charter school law is being challenged in court on constitutionality grounds, The Lion reported on Friday.

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