School Choice Week rally brings crowd to courthouse lawn

Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, speaks to about 300 people who gathered Friday on the lawn of the Yellowstone County Courthouse in downtown Billings for a School Choice rally. (Jonathan McNiven photo)

BILLINGS — A rally for School Choice Week drew hundreds of people to the courthouse lawn in downtown Billings on Friday.

Organizer Jake Penwell, state director of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), said in an interview before the event that a goal of the rally was “to bring to light the idea of school choice” and to show community support for the idea of allowing students to succeed in educational settings that benefit them.

School Choice Week events occur nationally. Penwell said in Montana, the concept goes beyond “one size fits all” public school settings to home schools, private schools or combinations of educational approaches to reach students with different learning styles.

Penwell and Jeff Lazloffy spoke at Friday’s rally.

ACE offers a scholarship program designed to offer students from low-income families a better chance to attend a private school. Penwell said ACE has provided about 760 scholarships, which cover tuition or other costs that make it easier for families to consider alternatives when their child falters in a public school setting.

“We’re trying to give everybody equal access,” he said, and allow students to “go to the school that you think would work best.”

Families interested in the ACE scholarship program can inquire at local schools they are interested in attending, he said, such as the Catholic school system in Billings.

“ACE is just one of the tools,” Penwell said. Parents who ask for help can find answers from many sources, and rallies like the one Friday can be a good starting point.

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