First members of Montana charter school commission chosen

School Crossing
Posted at 12:02 PM, Sep 01, 2023

HELENA — The seven initial members of a new state commission that would authorize and oversee “community choice” charter schools in Montana have been announced.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office said he was appointing Trish Schreiber, an educational therapist from Helmville, to chair the Community Choice Schools Commission. Schreiber, who is also senior education fellow at the Frontier Institute, advocated during the 2023 legislative session for House Bill 562, which established community choice schools.

Gianforte also named Cathy Kincheloe, of Whitefish, as a commission member. His office said Kincheloe has more than 20 years of experience with public charter schools as a teacher and in leadership roles.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen said last week that she would begin taking applications from people interested in serving on the commission. On Thursday, she named Gary Carlson, of Victor, to fill the position. Carlson is a retired public school teacher and professor, and a former Bitterroot Valley Community College trustee.

In addition to the two commission members chosen by the governor and one named by the state superintendent, the House and Senate leaders from both parties are each allowed to select one member of the commission. A spokesperson for Senate Republican leadership told MTN that Senate President Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, named former GOP state senator Dee Brown, a retired teacher and business owner from Hungry Horse.

House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, said he selected Mark Hufstetler, an entrepreneur also from Kalispell, for the commission.

Most Democrats in the Legislature voted against HB 562. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, told MTN he remained opposed to the bill, but it is now law, and he wanted to make sure the minority’s perspective was heard. He said he had selected Emily Hessler, a teacher at Bridger Charter Academy, a charter program within the Bozeman School District. Flowers cited her experience with public schools and charters.

House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, selected Katy Wright, a Montessori teacher at Smith Elementary School in Helena.

According to HB 562, the commission members “must collectively possess substantial experience and expertise in board governance, business, finance, education, management, and philanthropy,” and must all “have a demonstrated understanding of and commitment to choice schools as a strategy for strengthening public education.”

Under the law, Gianforte’s appointees will serve four-year terms. Arntzen’s, Abbott’s and Flowers’ will serve three years, and Ellsworth’s and Regier’s will serve two years. After the initial terms, future members will all serve three-year terms.

Community choice schools would be exempted from a number of requirements that traditional public schools must follow, like teacher certification requirements. Schools would be operated by governing boards, eventually elected by parents and guardians of the students attending.

Plaintiffs and defendants are now waiting for a Lewis and Clark County district judge to issues a ruling on whether House Bill 562 should remain in effect while a lawsuit challenging it as unconstitutional moves forward. Opponents claim community choice schools would be “privatized” schools and would undermine the Montana Constitution’s guarantee of a quality public education.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include additional biographical information about commission member Gary Carlson.