Montana Legal Ruling Marks Big Win for Montana Special Needs Students

Press Release: For Immediate Release
July 11, 2024

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact:
Ann Marie Miller, EdChoice | 312-841-4961

Montana Legal Ruling Marks Big Win for Montana Special Needs Students
EdChoice Legal Advocates 1-0 Defending Education Freedom

HELENA—In a case challenging the constitutionality of the Montana Special Needs Equal Opportunity Education Savings Account (ESA) Program, Judge Mike Menahan of the Montana First Judicial District, Lewis and Clark County, has denied a request to stop the program, which went into effect July 1, 2024. The ruling means that qualifying families of students with special needs may continue submitting claims to the Montana Office of Public Instruction for covered educational costs payable from their ESAs.

“This ruling is a victory for all Montanans, but especially for students with special needs whose families can use ESAs to pay for education services that best meet their needs,” said Thomas M. Fisher, vice president and director of litigation at EdChoice Legal Advocates (EdLA), a division of EdChoice, Inc. “All students, regardless of their abilities, deserve access to a quality education, and this program will ensure families throughout the state have the freedom and funding necessary to provide an education that meets the unique needs of their children.”

Fisher, along with Helena attorney Dale Schowengerdt, represents Sue Vinton, a member of the Montana House of Representatives who sponsored the ESA legislation in 2023 after recognizing that many students with special needs could benefit from services away from local public schools.

“This is a great win for education freedom in Montana, particularly for students with special needs,” said Vinton. “Every child with special needs is different, and the ESA program provides parents with critical resources to purchase the education and services best suited for their children.”

Now, families like the Grilleys will be able to use ESAs to provide needed education services for their children. The Grilleys’ two sons have special needs that were not being met by their local public school district. They plan to use the ESA program to finance a hybrid homeschool program and related occupational therapy services.

Wednesday’s decision also represents an important first court victory for the newly created EdLA. “EdChoice has long been a national leader advocating for education freedom,” Fisher noted. “With EdLA, it now has a team of skilled litigators ready to defend education freedom in court—and to win.”

In technical terms, the First Judicial District court denied a motion for preliminary injunction, which means the balance of the case remains to be litigated. But while the case goes on, qualifying Montana families can use their ESAs to pay education costs for their students with special needs.

To be connected with Thomas Fisher or Sue Vinton, contact Ann Marie Miller at

Case documents:

– Unopposed Motion to Intervene as a Defendant
– Brief in Support of Unopposed Motion to Intervene as a Defendant
– Declaration of Sue Vinton in Support of Motion to Intervene as a Defendant
– Answer and Affirmative Defenses of Intervenor-Defendant to Complaint

EdChoice, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to advance educational freedom and choice for all students as a pathway to successful lives and a stronger society, launched EdLA in 2023 to defend school choice programs in the states.