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Bozeman School District preparing for impact of two bills passed by Montana Legislature

HB 203 is allowing open enrollment for all Montana school districts
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Posted at 9:04 AM, May 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-17 11:04:16-04

The 68th Legislature passed two bills that will directly affect our local schools. Monday night, the Bozeman School Board discussed House Bill 214 that goes into effect this fall. This bill allows non-district students to enroll in the Bozeman Charter School which provides online learning.

Superintendent of Bozeman Schools, Casey Bertram, says, “We're opening up enrollment in the Charter School for remote learning to students outside of our district on a tuition basis, which means state funding A and B would come to Bozeman School District for those students and then parents would pay the tuition component.”

Superintendent Bertram says opening enrollment to out-of-district students could have a positive effect on the Charter School.

Superintendent Bertram says, “We had successful levy passage. It stabilizes funding for a year, but we really need the enrollment to stabilize at a point where it makes sense to offer the program financially. We don't have the enrollment in the school needed to run that on an efficient basis. So we're hoping that opening up enrollment will allow us to make that a more sustainable model.”

House Bill 203 is an Open Enrollment Bill that could cause significant change to public schools by opening the doors to all public schools and removes the tuition component.

“It's a significant change for us and all other school districts," says Superintendent Bertram, "I think our reaction has yet to be determined. Ultimately, I think our schools operate most efficiently when they are full and they are full of our district's students.”

Bertram says even with students potentially coming in from other districts, parents who live within the district don't need to worry about available space in their schools.

“When we're full, we're full," says Superintendent Bertram, "And so we will place all of our resident students who want to attend school here and then have a certain number of spaces available to out-of-district students.”

Bertram says open enrollment ends at the district boundaries, allowing students to come to the district, but not choose a specific school. House Bill 203 could also impact district planning.

“Typically our enrollment in our demographic projections are a pretty tight model where we're looking at live birth rates at Bozeman Health, we're looking at cohort survival rates. So, first graders becoming second graders becoming third graders," says Superintendent Bertram. "And it's pretty easy to predict that over time. When you throw in open enrollment, we don't have a model for that.”

All of these issues will have to be addressed before the law goes into effect in the 2024-25 school year.