Charter school advocates and lawmakers from both parties expressed support for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to increase state funding for charter schools, part of $128 million in education reform spending.
If passed, the proposal would increase the state’s per-pupil funding for charter schools from $9,400 to $11,000 while increasing the contribution from local school districts to $1,000 per student. The state’s increase amounts to $11.1 million and municipalities will be asked to contribute an additional $6.5 million.
About 6,000 students attend one of the state’s 17 charter schools. Many are minorities or are from low-income families. The governor has also proposed opening five more charter schools in urban areas around the state.
Charter schools consistently lead the state in performance among low-income groups.
Three of the top 10 elementary schools for African-American student performance are charters and the high schools with the highest performing African American students are charters, according to Dr. Michael Sharpe, president of the Connecticut Charter School Network.
Lawmakers from both parties condemned the achievement gap. Sen. Martin Looney, D – New Haven, called it “one of the most fundamental challenges to our democracy here in Connecticut,” while Rep. Sean Williams, R – Watertown, callled it “the biggest civil rights issue of our generation.”
Looney said that charter schools, with their high test scores and college enrollment rates, have had unparalleled success at closing that gap.
But Looney also spoke about the need for education reform on a broader scale by suggesting that all public schools replicate the teaching techniques and longer school day at charter schools like New Haven’s Amistad Academy.
“It is in fact the major problem in our state,” Looney said. “We know that there are many students graduating from our high schools who are not prepared for college work.”
He described some of the techniques the school uses to motivate and inspire students, like the prep school and college pennants hanging in the academy’s upstairs hallways, which encourage students to strive for a future beyond high school.
Looney spoke about the school’s remarkable ability to turn around low-achieving students.
“You have students who were several years behind in math and reading…when they graduated, they were several years ahead,” Looney said
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said that equalizing education funding is “a place for real bipartisan cooperation, especially this year.”
In response to a question about whether cash-strapped school districts can afford the $1,000 tuition fee per pupil, Boucher said districts that send students to charter schools will save money both by not paying for tuition locally, and by receive more money through the state’s educational cost sharing formula.
“They saving on both ends,” Boucher said.
Some critics say that lower performing school districts will likely have trouble finding $1,000 per student to help send more students to charter schools.
While Sharpe said that he “could always be happier” about the level at which charter schools are funded, Malloy’s reforms are “a good start.” Sharpe said he would eventually like to see the per-student state contribution rise to $13,300, the state’s average per pupil contribution.
“I’m being criticized for sending more money to charter schools and I’m being criticized for not sending enough,” Malloy said Thursday at a school in Meriden. “It sounds like I probably have it right.”