A day after a public hearing on a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on new charter schools, Democratic Gov. Dannel P Malloy said he wouldn’t support it.
“I wouldn’t support a moratorium of the creation of any kind of public school,” Malloy said Friday at an unrelated press conference.
The governor took a firm stance against a legislative initiative to slow the growth of charter schools in the state following a scandal at a now-defunct charter management organization, the Family Urban School of Excellence (FUSE). That charter organization ran schools in Hartford and sought to operate a school in Bridgeport when it was reported that the head of the organization had been convicted of embezzlement and didn’t hold a doctorate, contrary to how he portrayed himself on his resume.
The legislature’s Education Committee filed a bill last week that seeks to repeal a portion of the general statutes governing charter schools and specifically would require the state Board of Education to halt the approval of new charter schools after July 1, “until the Commission[er] of Education develops a comprehensive statewide charter school plan and conducts a review of charter schools in existence.”
The plan would have to be submitted by Feb. 1, 2017, and would be subject to review by a “joint standing committee of the General Assembly.”
But Malloy’s budget proposal dedicates the dollars necessary to fund both grade growth in existing charters and two new charter schools in Bridgeport and Stamford. His budget includes $12 million in 2016 for 1,250 new charter school seats and $7.9 million in 2017 for 612 more charter school seats.
“I think you open schools when you need to open them for any number of purposes,” Malloy said Friday, and added that the state should honor the commitments it has made to these schools.
But the head of one of the state’s teacher unions, who endorsed Malloy’s re-election bid, said she’s concerned because it “sounds like we’re more interested in putting profits before practical policy.”
Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut, told the legislature’s Education Committee on Thursday that the state should take some time to look at developing a comprehensive statewide policy regarding all public schools, including charters.
“If we really want to do this and we want to do this right — there is no reason we can’t put the brakes on for a couple of years,” Peters said.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said she supports the creation of a statewide plan because, in the absence of any plan, the people with “the most support” have been able to push for increases in funding.
“We might be helping a hundred kids here, which is awesome, but slowly hurting a thousand kids in a system because of that,” Bye, who is the co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said.
Bye said she’s seen the power of organizations “and the power of marketing can outweigh a good reasoned plan that has input from all stakeholders.” Her comments were made a day before a coalition of groups in favor of increasing funding for charter schools unveiled a new digital advertising campaign featuring charter students talking about how much they love their schools.
Bye said there’s been a 1,400 percent increase in charter funding over the past 12 years, a 1,600 percent increase in magnet school funding, and only a 60 percent increase in the Education Cost Sharing grant to public schools.
Charter school organizations testified against the legislation Thursday. They said it wouldn’t be fair to the 3,600 students on wait lists trying to attend these schools.
Jennifer Alexander, CEO of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, said the proposal is about pressing pause on charter school expansion, but “no parent can afford to press pause on their child’s education.”
She said the proposal would “stifle innovation” and “choice” for some of the state’s poorest students.
Dacia Toll, co-CEO and president of Achievement First, which operates charter schools in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, said 86 percent of charter elementary schools and 83 percent of charter high schools outperform their host district on statewide tests.
“Connecticut’s charter schools have a very strong track record of serving in particular low-income students,“ Toll said.
She said there’s an implication that charter schools in the state “have grown out of control,” when there have been charter schools in the state for 20 years. She said there are 22 public charter schools in the state currently.
“Given the magnitude of the need one can argue that we have extraordinarily underinvested in the strongest group of schools serving low-income students in the state,” Toll said.
But a handful of Bridgeport parents testified in support of a moratorium because they believe the five charter schools in their city are taking resources away from their children.
Sauda Baracca, a member of the Bridgeport Board of Education, said the district is growing and the charters are taking resources away from the roughly 22,000 public school students.
Asked about the tension between the Bridgeport school board and charter schools in that city, Baracca said it’s “not tension. It’s money, funding, dollars.”
Bridgeport parent Dennis Bradley testified that the state allocated almost $30 million to Bridgeport’s five charter schools at the same time Bridgeport Public Schools lost $2.8 million dollars in funding.
However, Toll said the funding argument doesn’t hold water.
“Under current law the children who attend charter schools are effectively double funded,” Toll testified. She said the districts receive money for the charter students even though the students are not attending the public school.
The district is still responsible for the cost of transporting the charter school students. Also, it’s up to the district and the charter school to negotiate special education costs for certain students. Toll said the districts are not fully funding their obligation to give charter schools money for the special education students attending charter schools.