In the weeks since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy released his budget proposal, there has been some misinformation spread about the proposed funding for public charter schools.
Unfortunately, some of the claims are taken out of context or are based in half (or non)-truths. I’d like to set the record straight and explain why charter schools are good for children and public education in our state.
I want to be clear: Like every other public school in the state, the public charter schools educating children in Connecticut will not receive a per pupil funding increase under the current proposal.
As was widely reported, this budget flat funds the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, which provides grants to local school districts in Connecticut. That means the state isn’t providing any new general operating support for students in local districts.
Less coverage has been devoted to the fact that the per pupil grant for public charter schools — nearly all of what they spend annually — was flat funded as well.
To elaborate, public charter schools get a grant of $11,000 per-student from the state, and that funding makes up nearly all of what charters spend to support their students. Unlike school districts, charter schools do not have taxing authority and do not receive local funding. Thus, charters need to fundraise and look to smaller federal grants for support, a time-consuming endeavor that would be better spent on educating kids in the classroom.
However, this still doesn’t close our student funding gap. According to a 2014 University of Arkansas study that looked at all sources of funding public schools received in the 2010-11 school year, Connecticut charter school students received about 83 cents on the dollar compared to students in local district schools. Both ECS and the charter per-pupil grant have risen since the study was done, but the gap persists.
Still, the school finance problem is much bigger than this. What we have right now is a funding system that everyone agrees is completely broken.
There aren’t many education issues with that kind of consensus, and we stand ready to work with anyone committed to finding a fix.
All public schools, whether they are a charter, district, or magnet, should receive funding based on the actual needs of their students, not based on legislative compromises and arbitrary formulas.
That said, I’d like to clarify where the funding proposed for charter schools in the Governor’s budget is going.
The additional funding is mostly paying for commitments we’ve already made to students. It would pay for charter schools with students progressing to the next grade, as well as pre-approved schools in Stamford and Bridgeport, slated to open this fall.
In total, there are seven schools across the state with students who expect to move on to the next grade at their school, but aren’t sure that will be possible.
At Achievement First Hartford Academy, 11th grade students who have been with the school for over a decade will have to leave and graduate from another high school if our state doesn’t fund a 12th grade class. At Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport, 6th graders who are just getting used to middle school will need to move for 7th grade, right when they’re getting settled.
This growth is a common sense investment for our children. Funding it makes sense for our kids and our state.
Along the same lines, the proposed budget also funds two charter schools that are already approved by the state Board of Education. That approval is an acknowledgement that the schools — Capitol Prep Harbor and Stamford Charter School for Excellence — are carefully planned investments in our children that are worth making. However, approval doesn’t mean the state has allocated the money for those schools to open, which is why we’re having this discussion.
Families are waiting for Capitol Prep Harbor and Stamford Charter School for Excellence to open their doors this fall. They want more options for their kids, especially ones like these — modeled off a social justice themed, sought-after magnet in Hartford and a national blue ribbon school in the Bronx, respectively.
Funding them is fulfilling a promise to parents stuck on wait lists who are desperately seeking educational options for their children.
With a billion-dollar budget deficit, we will need to make some difficult decisions. But children are the future of this state and they are the most important investment we can make. State leaders should protect funding for commitments we’ve already made to charter school students and their families, keep opening new ones, all while ensuring that every public school student has the resources they need to succeed.
Jeremiah Grace is Connecticut State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the non-profit association for public charter schools in Connecticut and New York.
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