NewsLocal News


School-choice advocates rally in Billings

Posted at 6:34 PM, Jan 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 20:34:01-05

BILLINGS — A sea of yellow packed the Yellowstone County courthouse lawn Friday afternoon in support of private-school options during National School Choice week.

Schools, home school groups, organizations and individuals raised public awareness of the different K-12 education options, outside of public schools, available to children and families, all while highlighting the benefits of school choice.

Jeff Laszloffy, the president of the Montana Family Foundation, has been fighting to pass school choice in Montana. Laszloffy said in Montana, roughly 1,500 kids drop out of public schools, and he believes additional school options could help them stay in school.

"We want that for every single child in Montana to find the perfect educational fit kids learn differently. Everyone has different learning styles, different interests. We want there to be a school setting for each and every child that fits them perfectly so that they thrive and go on to succeed," he said.

The rally happened as the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding a landmark case from Montana involving financing for private-school options. On Wednesday, attorneys for three Kalispell parents argued in the high court that the Montana Supreme Court improperly struck down a 2015 tax credit aimed to aiding scholarships for students at religious schools.

The case, Espinoza v. the Montana Department of Revenue, has broad implications for religious-based schools. Advocates say the state court ruling unfairly targets students at certain schools based on religion.

Opponents of the tax credit say it upholds the separation of church and state because all private religious schools in Montana are Christian.

Laszloffy said he helped craft the bill creating the tax credit in 2008, introduced it a year later, then saw it pass seven years later. It's been in the court system ever since, and Laszloffy said he feels good about its chance in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We believe, listening to the judges, that we are probably going to win on a 5-4 decision. And the question is, how broadly are they going to rule?" he said.

Now the anticipation builds until June, when the U.S. Supreme court is expected to make its decision. Laszloffy believes a broad ruling will open up school choice in Montana and advocates will begin introducing news bills in the next legislative session.