Montana Governor Vetoes ESA for Students with Special Needs

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed HB 322 last week. The bill, which would have created an education savings account (ESA) program for students with special needs, journeyed a path filled with fits and starts.

The ESA bill marched easily through the House of Representatives passing on a third reading vote of 57-41 before being transferred to the Senate on April 18. It easily passed the Education and Cultural Resources Committee, but stalled for final passage in the Senate twice before finally passing on a motion to reconsider.  The bill did finally pass with bipartisan support, however.

Bullock’s reasoning for vetoing the bill included his issue with how the bill defined “special needs,” despite those definitions being generally-accepted by entities, such as The United States Department of Education and every state-level department of education. He also cited his objection to the program using money public schools would have received had participating ESA students not chosen to disenroll. In his words, he believed that providing ESAs for students with special needs is “simply not good policy.”


The Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) would have administered this ESA program. When a parent decides to remove his or her child from the public school system, the parent would sign a contract with the OPI to specify the areas of study that the parent will provide to the student.  From there, the OPI would determine the level of student funding, which would be roughly 90 percent of the district per-pupil amount or the average of the statewide per-pupil amount. Then, 95 percent of those funds would be deposited into an education savings account, with 5 percent given to the OPI to administer the program.


All Montana students between the ages of five and 19 years old who were previously enrolled in the public school system and are identified as children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or are qualified under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, would have been eligible. Additionally, foster children, children of active duty military members, and children of a military member killed in the line of duty also would have been eligible.


  • payment for tuition, fees, textbooks, software, or other instructional materials or services to a qualified school
  • payment for an educational program or course using electronic or offsite delivery methods, including but not limited to tutoring, distance learning programs, online programs, and technology-delivered learning programs
  • payment for purchase of curriculum, including supplemental materials required by the curriculum
  • tutoring
  • educational therapies or services from a licensed or certified practitioner or provider, including
  • licensed or certified paraprofessionals or educational aides
  • fees for state or nationally recognized assessment tests, advanced placement exams, entrance

examinations at an eligible postsecondary institution, or other assessment instruments

  • services provided by a public school in Montana, including individual classes and extracurricular activities
  • payment to an eligible postsecondary institution for tuition, books, online courses, or other fees
  • no more than $50 annually in consumable education supplies, such as paper, pens, and markers
  • fees paid to a fee-for-service transportation provider for transportation required for another allowable educational service
  • fees paid to an education cooperative


Each school that receives an ESA shall:

  • Submit a receipt quarterly to the OPI documenting the services provided to the student.


Each parent that receives an ESA shall:

Provide for instruction in:

  • language arts
  • mathematics
  • history and civics
  • science

But not spend account funds on:

  • computer hardware or other technological devices
  • transportation for the student