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Education coalition sues state schools superintendent over charter school rollout

The coalition of school districts and public education leaders is asking a judge to order Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen to distribute funding to 18 public charter schools.

A state education panel approved the schools earlier this year. But Arntzen says county commissioners are also required by law to approve the schools before they can open.

Plaintiffs disagree and in the suit say Arntzen and the Office of Public Instruction are “inserting” themselves into a process that they have no authority over.

Attorney for the plaintiffs Elizabeth Kaleva says her clients tried to avoid litigation.

“There were a lot of discussions that you saw, obviously, with letters that were going back and forth, but also informal conversations about, ‘How can we resolve this, short of any litigation?’” Kaleva told MTPR. “And, we reached an impasse.”

Plaintiffs in the suit say added layers of “bureaucracy” may prevent the schools from opening on July 1 as intended by state law.

The suit is the latest escalation in a legal dispute between Arntzen and a group of state lawmakers and education leaders over the meaning of multiple new education laws.

In a statement, Superintendent Arntzen wrote, in part, “I am being attacked because I have stood up for Montana parents, families, and taxpayers, not special interests.” Arntzen gave no indication she planned to change course on her office’s interpretation of the law.

Copyright 2024 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Austin Amestoy