HELENA — The House unexpectedly flipped Tuesday on a Republican proposal to bring charter schools to Montana, although the proposal may not be dead yet.
The chamber rejected the measure on a 50-49 vote Tuesday that was needed to advance it to the Senate — just a day after endorsing it in an initial vote.
Republican leaders backing the measure said they were surprised to lose six Republican votes in just a day.
Speaker Pro Tempore Austin Knudsen, a lawyer from Culbertson, said he was "disappointed." House Republican leaders said they may revive the measure since they would only need to persuade one legislator to change his or her mind.
School and education groups had been lobbying against the measure. The opponents argued that the charter schools establish a parallel school system that would siphon money out of traditional public schools.
Republican Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, said he changed his mind after local school officials in his district called and cautioned that the measure may not work in rural areas. Such school districts would not have enough students to support both a charter school and traditional school, he said.
"They were just nervous about the bill back home," Berry said.
Supporters of House Bill 315 said the new charter schools would be exempt from most state regulation in exchange for greater requirements to produce results. They argued most states already have charter schools and said they crafted the measure based on experiences elsewhere.
It was part of a package of bills aimed at spurring "school choice" that also included a $550 tax credit for private-school tuition.
Democrats, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, applauded the charter school bill's potential demise. She said it was not feasible in rural Montana, which has many small districts.