Court issues preliminary injunction to prevent authorization of private schools
News from Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, Upper Seven Law
HELENA — On Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, the First Judicial District issued a partial preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of House Bill 562 (“HB 562”). The district court found that the bill likely violates separation of powers principles and voters’ constitutional right to vote in local school board elections, among other Montana constitutional provisions.
Public school plaintiffs - a diverse group that includes the Montana Quality Education Coalition and the League of Women Voters of Montana as well as eight Montana teachers, parents, voters, and taxpayers - brought the lawsuit because HB 562 would create a separate and unequal system of state-subsidized private schools that directly conflicts with the Montana Constitution’s guarantee of equal, free, and quality public education.
The district court determined that Public School Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of dispositive claims, explaining, among other things, that “the legislature can no more transfer the Board [of Public Education]’s constitutionally sanctioned executive powers to another body than it could transfer the duties and powers of the Governor or the Attorney General to a new office of the legislature’s creation.”
While the district court allowed a new statewide commission to convene, it has enjoined the commission from authorizing any privatized schools under HB 562 and thus stopped the bill’s unconstitutional system of unaccountable schools from progressing until a full and fair examination of the merits can be had.
“This comes as no surprise. Access to high quality, free, and equal public education in Montana is a fundamental right under our state constitution,” said Amanda Curtis, president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees and a member of MQEC. “This case is about our children and about the future of our state. We cannot build privatized schools that defund public schools and provide quality education at the same time.”
“Diverting public funds to schools with no accountability will fundamentally change the nature of public education in Montana and we cannot stand for it,” said Jessica Felchle, a Billings public school teacher with children who attend Laurel Public Schools. “Both for my own children and the children I teach, I am incredibly relieved. And I am confident that the Montana Constitution will continue to protect us.”
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