Big Sky Connection

A statewide news service for Montana
Producer: Mark Moran, 2047 N. Last Chance Gulch #125, Helena, MT, 59601 Ph: 888-320-9607 Fax: 208-247-1830 E-mail:
MEDIA PRODUCTS ONLINE: Your Web Account ID is: BSC-5099
Direct login:

May 2, 2024Available files: mp3 wav jpg

MT disability advocates sue to stop school vouchers

Advocates for people with disabilities and special-education students are pushing back on an education funding bill that would allow private schools to use public money for tuition. Montana is among dozens of states that have some form of Educational Savings Accounts. Critics say they drain public school money. Supporters say they can better educate their own students when given control of the money. Comments from Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, executive director, Helena-based Upper 7 Law.

Intro: Advocates for the rights of people with disabilities have joined the Montana Quality Education Association in a suit to stop a school voucher bill in the state. Montana is the latest to enact a plan that allows parents to pay private school tuition with public money. Montana's Senate Bill 393 is much more narrowly focused than Educational Savings Accounts in other states. In Montana, the money is limited to reimbursing services for special-education students and those with disabilities. Rylee Sommers-Flanagan is a lawyer helping oversee the suit and says Montana's version of the E-S-A requires special-ed students renounce their right to a free, quality education under the state constitution and forgo federal assistance, too.

  :17  "In exchange for renouncing that, they can gain access to anywhere between $5,000 and $8,000 annually, which, as we all know, is not enough money to educate a child for a year under any circumstances, let alone a student who may have special needs and may have particularity expensive special needs depending on the circumstances."

Tag:  School voucher measures are growing across the nation. Twenty-nine states now have some form of them. The suit to block Montana Senate Bill 393 was filed in state court in Helena.


Second Cut: In addition to the critics' standard argument that funding E-S-As with state education money comes at the expense of public K-12 classrooms, Sommers-Flanagan says the E-S-As won't make enough money available to adequately fund special-needs students anyway.

  :15  "It's a lose-lose situation. It's incredibly harmful. It appears just to be a gambit to try to privatize public money and to send it to vendors and to folks who have no accountability and no responsibility to genuinely meet the needs of kids who have disabilities in Montana. "

Tag:  Supporters have said they can do a better job educating their own kids than the state can because they understand their students' strengths and weaknesses.


OPTIONAL REPORTER WRAP: uses first soundbite(s)
LEDE: Advocates for the rights of people with disabilities have joined the Montana Quality Education Association in a suit to stop a school voucher bill in the state. Mark Moran (mor-ANN) reports.
 1:09 Outcue...I'm Mark Moran

Note to Editors: Reach Sommers-Flanagan: (406) 396-3373 SB 393: Injunction: (Info in Caption):