SB170 - Flexibility in School Calendar and PIRD (Mangan (D) - Great Falls)

 

A new law has been added to Montana's statutes that will affect home schools in Montana. Intended to modify Montana education laws to provide greater flexibility for public school districts in setting their annual attendance calendars, SB170 also includes significant changes to non-public schools - as referenced below.

SB170 was the result of the Public School Renewal Commission report to the Education and Local Government Interim Committee (special committee that met between sessions). SB170 was sponsored by Senator Mangan. It passed the Senate Education Committee 11-0 and the full Senate 50-0. In the House it passed the Education Committee 14-2, and the full House 93-6. It was signed into law March 30, 2005 and will take affect July 1, 2005.

Currently all children 7-16 years of age in Montana are subject to compulsory attendance laws. Montana law provides exemptions to the compulsory attendance laws in 20-5-109 MCA. SB170 modifies one of the subsections of 20-5-109. Presently subsection 20-5-109(2) states:

(2) provide at least 180 days of pupil instruction or the equivalent in accordance with 20-1-301 and 20-1-302

After July 1st, this subsection will read:

(2) shall provide at least the minimum aggregate hours of public instruction in accordance with 20-1-301 and 20-1-302

For years all schools in Montana were required to provide 180 days of pupil instruction. Because many of the school districts recognized the advantages of a flexible school year, and that the number of days could be replaced with the existing total minimum hours, they campaigned for the 2005 legislature to drop the 180 day requirement.

Section 2(9) of SB170 also defines 'minimum aggregate hours':

(9) (a) "Minimum aggregate hours" means the minimum hours of pupil instruction that must be conducted during the school fiscal year in accordance with 20-1-301 and includes passing time between classes.

     (b) The term does not include lunch time and periods of unstructured recess.

 

For many years subsection 20-5-109(2) has referenced 20-1-301 and 20-1-302 MCA. 20-1-301 defines the minimum annual hours required for a school year, by grade. Section 3 of SB170 also modified 20-1-301:

Section 3.  Section 20-1-301, MCA, is amended to read:

     "20-1-301.  School fiscal year. (1) The school fiscal year begins on July 1 and ends on June 30. At least 180 school days of pupil instruction and the minimum aggregate hours defined in subsection (2) must be conducted during each school fiscal year, except that 175 days and 1,050 aggregate hours of pupil instruction for graduating seniors may be sufficient or a minimum of 90 days and 360 aggregate hours of pupil instruction must be conducted for a kindergarten program, as provided in 20-7-117.

     (2)  The minimum aggregate hours required by grade are:

     (a)  720 hours for grades 1 through 3; and

     (b)  1,080 hours for grades 4 through 12.

     (3)  To calculate the number of equivalent school days of pupil instruction when providing less than the minimum number of hours of instruction provided in subsections (1) and (2), a school district shall:

     (a)  determine the aggregate hours of pupil instruction by grade level;

     (b)  divide the aggregate hours of pupil instruction for each grade level by the minimum hours a day for that grade level provided in 20-1-302; and

     (c)  round the result down to the nearest whole number.

     (4)(3)  For any elementary or high school district that fails to provide for at least 180 school days of pupil instruction and the minimum aggregate hours, as defined listed in subsections (1) and (2), the superintendent of public instruction shall reduce the direct state aid for the district for that school year by 1/90th for each school day less than 180 school days as calculated in subsection (3) or by 1/90th for each calendar day less than the minimum school days required by subsection (1), whichever is greater two times an hourly rate, as calculated by the office of public instruction, for the aggregate hours missed."

(All lines that are struck indicate what is being removed. The underlines portion are additions.)

 

Subsection (2) of 20-5-109 also references another section of Montana law; 20-1-302. This section defined the number of hours in a school day. It simply did the math by calculating: 720/180=4 hours/day and 1080/180=6 hours/day. Section 4 of SB170 will remove references to the number of hours in a school day:

 Section 4.  Section 20-1-302, MCA, is amended to read:

     "20-1-302.  School term, day, and week. (1) Subject to 20-1-301, 20-1-308, and any applicable collective bargaining agreement covering the employment of affected employees, a school day of pupil instruction must be at least 2 hours for kindergartens, at least 4 hours for grades 1 through 3, and at least 6 hours for grades 4 through 12. The number of hours in 1 school day may be reduced at the discretion of the trustees if the total number of pupil-instruction hours in the school year is not less than the minimum aggregate hours required in 20-1-301 the trustees of a school district shall set the number of days in a school term, the length of the school day, and the number of school days in a school week and report them to the superintendent of public instruction.

     (2) When proposing to adopt changes to a previously adopted school term, school week, or school day, the trustees shall:

     (a) negotiate the changes with the recognized collective bargaining unit representing the employees affected by the changes;

     (b) solicit input from the employees affected by the changes but not represented by a collective bargaining agreement; and

     (c) solicit input from the people who live within the boundaries of the school district."

 

What does this change mean to home schools in Montana (as well as private schools)?

After July 1, 2005 home schools must provide "at least the minimum aggregate hours of pupil instruction in accordance with 20-1-301 and 20-1-302 [MCA]". The 180 day requirement has been deleted. Section 20-1-301 defines the total minimum hours for the school year (since 1983, 20-5-109, it has always referenced 20-1-301's required minimum pupil instruction hours for a school year). Though, 20-1-302 addresses the school term, including length of school day, number of days in school term and number of school days in a week, the school district can not dictate the actual school calendar for non-public schools - since 20-1-301 is very clear in the definition of required minimum hours in a school fiscal year (720/1080 hours).

Subsection (1) of 20-5-109 MCA requires a non-public or home school to "maintain records on pupil attendance and disease immunization and make the records available to the county superintendent of schools on request". With the passage of SB170, there is no legal demand to include total instructional hours for each day (or year) reported. Attendance records are just that - attendance. Montana law will simply require each student to be instructed the 'minimum aggregate hours' for the school year (720/1080).  (And of course, instruction in a home school includes many other activities and field trips that are beyond a typical 'classroom' session in the home.)

There has been no change to our rights as 'spelled out' in 20-5-111:

20-5-111. Responsibilities and rights of parent who provides home school. Subject to the provisions of 20-5-109, a parent has the authority to instruct his child, stepchild, or ward in a home school and is solely responsible for:
     (1) the educational philosophy of the home school;
     (2) the selection of instructional materials, curriculum, and textbooks;
     (3) the time, place, and method of instruction; and
     (4) the evaluation of the home school instruction.

From a practical standpoint, if parents have understood previously that they had to meet the hours requirement in the statute (20-1-301 MCA), things have not changed. Record keeping should not change. SB170 eliminates all references to number of instruction days.

To review SB170: CLICK HERE

If you have any questions regarding this information or SB170, please let me know. Also, members of Home School Legal Defense (www.hslda.org) may wish to contact HSLDA with any questions.

 

Steve White, MCHE