Doug Hardy / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport (Doug Hardy / ctnewsjunkie)

More than a handful of Democratic lawmakers are unhappy that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whom they helped re-elect, has drawn a line in the sand over funding for two new charter schools.

House Democrats were given details of the state budget being negotiated behind closed doors Saturday and many emerged “disappointed” in Malloy’s insistence that $4.6 million be included in the yet-to-be-released budget to fund two new charter schools.

As word of that spread around the building, Rep. Ed Vargas, D-Hartford, said some Democrats were angry.

Vargas said he worked for Malloy during the 2014 campaign based on his understanding that the state would be going in a different direction when it came to education. He said Malloy had signaled as much when he announced the departure of former Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, a co-founder of a charter school.

Courtesy of the House Dems
Rep. Ed Vargas, D-Hartford (Courtesy of the House Dems)

Vargas said party leaders were attempting to quell the anger over Malloy’s position by negotiating an increase in the Education Cost Sharing grant for public schools. He said he doesn’t know if that will be enough to get him to vote for the budget because he hasn’t seen the tax package yet.

Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport, said he was previously a proponent of charter schools, but has since changed his mind.

He said public schools are like a large ship that has a crack in the hull. He said 95 percent of the students are on board and instead of funding appropriate repairs, they decided to take a few students off and throw them in a charter school lifeboat.

One of the two new charters that Malloy wants to fund is slated to be operated by Steve Perry, a controversial figure who is principal of the Hartford Capital Prep Magnet School and has launched his own new charter management organization to operate a new school in Bridgeport.

Tom Swan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said it was “unfathomable for the leaders of our state to under-fund public education and now direct money to a charlatan like Steve Perry.”

Perry has been a lightning rod in the Connecticut debate over education reform, mainly for statements he has made on social media where he has squared off against public education advocate and former lawmaker Jonathan Pelto, who has called for Perry’s termination as principal of Capital Prep for a variety of reasons.

Neither the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee nor the Republican caucuses included the $4.6 million in their budgets for the two new schools, despite the lobbying efforts of pro-charter groups united under the Coalition For Every Child and Families for Excellent Schools.

The coalition spent more than $660,000 — according to the Office of State Ethics — to lobby in favor of continued growth in funding for charter schools.

That includes the $87,700 they spent on transportation and $14,000 they spent on food for a May 7 rally at the state Capitol, where Malloy pledged his support for their efforts.

“We’re grateful that the majority of legislators are bucking the special interests and listening to the pleas of parents who want a great school for their children,” Kara Neidhardt, a spokesperson for Families for Excellent Schools, said.

Earlier this year, lawmakers watered down a bill that would have created a moratorium on new charter schools after Malloy said he wouldn’t support it.

The charter schools aren’t the only ones hard at work on lobbying, but they have spent more money than the state’s two teacher unions. Connecticut’s largest teacher union, the Connecticut Education Association, has spent $142,000 since the beginning of the year on its lobbying efforts and AFT Connecticut, the second largest teacher union, has spent $76,400.