Montana Code Annotated 2023



Part 1. Community Choice Schools Act

Community Choice School Operation And Autonomy

20-11-119. Community choice school operation and autonomy. (1) (a) A community choice school must be a nonprofit education organization.

(b) A choice school is subject to all federal laws and authorities as provided in this part or arranged by charter contract with the choice school's authorizer consistent with applicable laws, rules, and regulations.

(c) Except as provided in this part, a choice school is not subject to the provisions of Title 20 or any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to traditional public schools within an applicable traditional local school district.

(d) For the purposes of the public employee retirement system and the teacher retirement system under Title 19, choice schools are not "employers" and choice school employees are not "employees" as those terms are defined in 19-2-303 and 19-20-101.

(e) A single governing board may hold one or more charter contracts. A charter contract may consist of one or more schools, to the extent approved by the authorizer and consistent with applicable law. Each choice school that is part of a charter contract is separate and distinct from any other choice school.

(f) The founding governing board of a choice school may apply for and operate with a charter contract for a period up to 3 years before holding an election. The founding board shall ensure an elected governing board is in place within 3 years of the school commencing operations. The governing board must be elected by a process outlined in the choice school bylaws. The election process must include the following requirements:

(i) the qualified electors consist of parents and guardians of students enrolled in the school and the choice school's employees. The qualified electors shall nominate and vote for candidates for the governing board on a cycle outlined in the choice school's bylaws.

(ii) if the number of nominees is equal to the number of vacancies, no election is required;

(iii) if the number of nominees is greater than the number of vacancies, the election must be decided by the qualified electors as part of the next regular school election; and

(iv) the terms of board members must be staggered to ensure continuity on the governing board.

(2) A choice school may only be created within the geographical boundaries of a third-class elementary district, as described in 20-6-201, or a third-class high school district, as described in 20-6-301, if:

(a) the choice school is being converted from an existing public school;

(b) the traditional third-class school district elects to establish a community choice school;

(c) the traditional third-class district elects to convert a grade or grades to a choice school from an existing school;

(d) the choice school is a tribal choice school;

(e) the choice school is a virtual community choice school; or

(f) the governing board of the choice school has received approval, by majority vote, of a memorandum of understanding from the third-class school district's board of trustees.

(3) Each community choice school shall function as a local educational agency. A choice school is responsible for meeting the requirements of a local educational agency under applicable federal, state, and local laws, including those relating to special education.

(4) For purposes of special education, a community choice school shall serve as its own local education agency. A choice school is responsible for special education services at the school, including identification and service provisions, and is responsible for meeting the needs of enrolled students with disabilities.

(5) A choice school has all the powers necessary for carrying out the terms of its charter contract, including the following powers:

(a) to receive and disburse funds for school purposes;

(b) to secure appropriate insurance and to enter into contracts and leases, free from prevailing wage laws;

(c) to contract with an education service provider for the management and operation of the choice school only if the school's governing board retains oversight authority over the school;

(d) to incur debt in reasonable anticipation of the receipt of public or private funds;

(e) to pledge, assign, or encumber its assets to be used as collateral for loans or extensions of credit;

(f) to solicit and accept gifts or grants for school purposes subject to applicable laws and the terms of its charter contract;

(g) to acquire real property, for use as its facility or facilities, from public or private sources; and

(h) to sue and be sued in its own name.

(6) (a) A choice school may not engage in any sectarian practices in its educational program, admissions policies, employment policies or practices, or operations.

(b) The powers, obligations, and responsibilities set forth in the charter contract may not be delegated or assigned by either party except as otherwise specifically provided in this part.

(7) (a) A choice school is subject to the same federal civil rights, health, and safety requirements applicable to other public schools in the state except as otherwise specifically provided in this part.

(b) The governing board shall establish graduation requirements and may award degrees and issue diplomas.

(c) A governing board is subject to and shall comply with state open meeting and public records laws pursuant to Title 2, chapters 3 and 6.

(d) A choice school shall establish purchasing procedures that include a competitive bidding process for purchases or contracts exceeding $80,000.

(8) (a) A community choice school's teachers are exempt from state teacher certification requirements provided in Title 20, chapter 4.

(b) Employees in choice schools have the same rights and privileges as other public school employees except as otherwise provided in this part.

(c) Teachers and other school personnel, as well as governing board members, are subject to criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements.

(d) Community choice school employees may not be required to be members of any existing collective bargaining agreement between a school district and its employees. However, a choice school may not interfere with laws and other applicable rules protecting the rights of employees to organize and to be free from discrimination.

(9) A choice school's location is determined exclusively by its governing board and only encompasses the property lines of where the school exists as a tenant, guest, or owner of the property. The community choice school is a separate public education entity authorized by and under control of the state of Montana. A choice school is separate from the traditional local school district in which it is physically located and is exempt from Title 20 except as provided in this part.

History: En. Sec. 14, Ch. 513, L. 2023.