A bill that removes approval and funding barriers for new charter schools narrowly passed the General Assembly’s Education Committee on Friday amid concerns over political blowback from organizations opposed to charter schools.
SB 1096 would strip a 2015 requirement that new charter schools receive an initial certificate of approval from the state Board of Education before starting the often year-long process of gaining final approval from the state board. The bill would also establish a grant account to fund new schools instead of the legislature having to formally approve all funding for new charter schools.
“I think it’s time for us and this state to give our parents a choice and give these children a chance,” said Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford.
The bill was voted out of the committee with 30 votes in favor, 13 opposed, and one abstention.
“My concern is always the students that are not getting access to charter schools, the students that remain in our public schools,” said Rep. Maryam Kahn, D-Windsor, who voted against the bill. “A lot of our city schools have historically had lower performances. I think what’s really important to that conversation is the lack of equitable funding that those districts have gotten.”
Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-New Britain, said that he initially was skeptical of charter schools and he supported the 2015 reform. Despite that, he said he would support this new bill.
“Since then, I visited a number of charter schools and I saw the work that they do and how proud and how grateful the kids are in those schools that they are part of those schools. That changed my whole perspective on charters,” he said.
McCrory argued that the state needed more charter schools to address Connecticut’s severe education gap, which often falls along demographically racial divides.
“After George Floyd died there was an awakening in this country and we started to listen to folks. I listened deeply,” McCrory said. “I don’t have a definition for institutional racism. I have a definition for structural racism, but I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like. More importantly, I know how it impacts my community.”
The vote also came days after the committee members were contacted by two teacher’s unions – the Connecticut Education Association and AFT Connecticut – pressuring the committee to oppose the bill.
“Whether or not you agree or disagree, that is your decision to be made today and hopefully that is not swayed or influenced by any sort of attempt or veiled threats of whether or not this vote is going to be counted in any sort of way with any sort of organizations that may or may not have inappropriately addressed the committee in such a manner,” Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, said before the vote. “The angst that some folks have about public charter schools is being addressed in a number of other pieces of legislation when we talk about accountability. Choice is here and choice is here to stay, but it must be funded appropriately.”
McCrory also spoke to the email, which he said was sent to every committee member on Wednesday, March 22.
“I have never in my 19 years here been vaguely threatened about how I vote on a certain piece of legislation,” he said. “You all read the letter. They’re going to take score of how you all vote on this one piece of legislation.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this story included an incomplete vote tally. The story also has been updated to include information about an email to the members of the committee.