State Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, is being thanked with a glossy mailer from a special interest group that has spent more than $1.1 million this year lobbying lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to make sure two new charter schools were included in the state budget.
The mailer was sent to constituents in McGee’s district, which includes the northend of Hartford and parts of Windsor, by Families for Excellent Schools.
“More kids now have access to a quality education, which means more opportunity and a brighter future,” the mailer reads.
It asks constituents to call McGee and thank him for his commitment to Connecticut kids.
It’s unclear still how much money was spent on the mailers because the filings are not due to the Office of State Ethics until the next quarter. It’s also unclear exactly how many other lawmakers may have benefited from the mailers by the pro-charter school group.
“The mailer thanked a number of legislators for their support for great schools for every child,” Kara Neidhardt, a spokeswoman for Families for Excellent Schools, said in an email. “The cost of the entire campaign will be disclosed in the next filing.”
McGee, who works in the Capitol Region Education Council’s school choice office, said Wednesday that he’s not offended by the mailing. He said he supports choice programs and participated in the school choice program when he was a child.
However, he acknowledged that there’s a much bigger conversation that needs to happen among policymakers when it comes to complying with the landmark Sheff desegregation lawsuit and school choice in general.
“There’s not one answer to this problem,” McGee said.
He said there needs to be support for both neighborhood schools, magnets, and charters. Most of his job at CREC involves making sure the community knows about its educational options.
There are lotteries to get into magnet and charter schools and there are hard feelings about what type of education a student will receive if they don’t get into one of these schools. McGee said that’s why the state needs to do a better job with its neighborhood schools.
McGee said his constituents are “evenly divided” on the issue of neighborhood and charter schools. He said some of his constituents believe funding public charter schools takes money away from neighborhood schools.
McGee admitted that neighborhood schools need to be funded better, but he doesn’t necessarily believe it should be at the expense of charter schools.
This isn’t the first time a pro-charter school group has expended funds on McGee’s behalf. In 2012, when he first ran for his seat, a school reform group with ties to StudentsFirst, the organization founded by the controversial former chancellor of the Washington school system, poured nearly $32,000 into his race.
The budget approved by the legislature in June included $4.6 million to open two new charter schools in Stamford and Bridgeport. Malloy insisted the two schools remain in the budget despite complaints from some of McGee’s colleagues in Hartford and Bridgeport.
Families for Excellent Schools has lobbied hard this year for increased funding for charter schools. The group spent $1.1 million between January through June. It also hired public relations and political strategy firms that employ former Malloy staffers Andrew Doba and Roy Occhiogrosso.
Families for Excellent Schools held a rally on the New Haven green in December last year and one in May outside the state Capitol in Hartford. At the rally in Hartford, they spent $87,700 on transportation and $14,000 on food for the students and parents who attended.