According to the CT General Assembly website, an implementer is a “bill that changes statutes to put into effect or ‘implement’ the provisions of the adopted state budget.”
That’s in theory. In practice, it’s when all sorts of “rats” get stuffed into a take-it-or-leave-it bill. It was through the 2010 implementer that Windham got stuck with special master Steven Adamowski, under whose tenure achievement didn’t improve. In 2014, Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, inserted a provision that said previously closed Flower Street in Hartford must “remain open to vehicular traffic for at least 20 hours per day.” The majority of his fellow legislators found out about that after they’d passed the bill.
The CT Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe-Thomas reported Tuesday that there might be similar action afoot on the charter school FOIA front this year.
It wouldn’t be surprising, given how much of a fight the charter proponents have put up on the transparency issue. In her testimony to the Education Committee opposing SB 1096 in March, Achievement First President Dacia Toll complained that “it would be incredibly burdensome to CMOs, as FOIA compliance would significantly distract, undermine, and obstruct non-profit CMO resources and manpower from its most important work: providing high-quality support to charter schools, students and staff.”
In other words, Ms. Toll is more than happy to take taxpayer money, but would find it “incredibly burdensome” to comply with FOIA requests that come with being held accountable for it.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah Grace, the Connecticut Director for Northeast Charter School Networks complained in his testimony that “this bill requires background checks for school staff and boards. Backgrounds are a safety issue that we take extremely seriously. Most of our members have been running them for all staff already, and making sure it’s the law is an important step for our children. It is worth noting that requiring charters to wait for these to be completed before hiring someone subjects charters to more stringent rules than district schools for no reason.”
I’m not sure how Mr. Grace can make the statement that “charters are being subjected to more stringent rules than district schools for no reason” with a straight face. First, we have already seen evidence that the background check issue hasn’t been taken seriously. Second, to say that having to wait for those to be completed before hiring is more stringent than in the public schools is just plain bunkum. Just to teach an after-school creative writing class in a district school, I had to undergo a full background check, including fingerprinting, and I had to ensure the background check was completed before I could commence instruction.
My hiring as an adjunct instructor at Western Connecticut State University was contingent on passing another background check, and providing transcripts as evidence of my degrees — something that it’s clear that prominent charter operators given very large quantities of taxpayer money were not required to do.
As J. Gregory McVerry, a commenter on the CT Mirror site observed, “You cannot wear shirts to testify at the State Capitol saying ‘Charter Schools are Public Schools’ — or indeed, call your company “Achievement First Public Charter Schools” and then in the same breath claim you are not the ‘functional equivalent’ of a public agency.”
Yet that is exactly what charter proponents do, consistently — and not just here in Connecticut. Across the border in New York City, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz went to court in order to prevent the NY state comptroller from auditing one of her schools. Again — she’ll take the kids in those schools out of class, bus them up to Albany to lobby for more charter funding, but if the state wants to account for how that money is being spent, then suddenly these charters are no longer quite so “public.”
Just ask The Hartford Courant. They got the “we’re not a public agency” excuse from Heidi Hamiliton, who took over as interim CEO of FUSE when Michael Sharpe stepped down following an investigation that uncovered his false credentials and criminal record.
State Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, told CTNewsJunkie’s Christine Stuart that he was one of the lawmakers who eventually decided to vote in favor of the state budget, which included funding for two new charter schools, because of the charter transparency bill. That bill was debated shortly before the budget debate in the House.
“We had to swallow the two charter schools, which we didn’t want to do,” Vargas said.
Then on the last night of session they heard rumors the budget implementer would have undone some of the accountability measures in the transparency bill, S.B. 1096.
He said they agreed to the two new schools because they knew they had the transparency bill to see what was happening.
But with a special session later this month, Vargas pointed out “there’s still a chance for mischief.”
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.