Bridgeport public schools losing big money to charters

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As a graduate of the Bridgeport Public Schools, a parent of a recent graduate of the school system, a former Bridgeport Board of Education member, and an active unpaid advocate for the public schools in my hometown, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read the recent editorial “CEA rhetoric not helping kids, public schools are” by Jeremiah Grace.

He is the Connecticut state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network which was co-founded by the disgraced Michael Sharpe from the now-defunct Family for Urban Schools of Excellence.

Full disclosure: I have never been a member of any union; and, I have never been compensated for my advocacy work on behalf of true public education.

Mr. Grace’s claim that the CEA’s “rhetoric” is “false, dishonest and insulting to parents” would be funny if it weren’t so incorrect. After all, isn’t it these millionaire-, billionaire-, Wall Street-backed charter school organizations that run ads depicting Connecticut school students as “trapped in failing schools” and advertise that “40,000 children are falling through the cracks?” [One of these ads appears at the bottom of this commentary — Ed.]

I think most of us would not only describe that as “rhetoric,” but also as deliberate “propaganda.”

Mr. Grace tries to discredit a recent CEA statewide poll because 78 percent of the participants were white; therefore, according to him, the poll was “marginalizing” the opinions of minorities.  The latest available U.S. census on Connecticut classifies 81.6 percent of our state population as “white alone.”

I would like Mr. Grace to share with us how many of the millionaires and billionaires that invest and/or founded the 22 Connecticut charter schools are “minorities?” One must ask who is really treating minorities like “puppets,” as Grace characterizes it.

I attended and provided testimony at the March 19 Education Committee hearing in Hartford. At 11:00 p.m., with testimony continuing late into the night, I took a moment to count how many charter school lobbyists, paid staff and charter school-compensated advocates were still in the room. Of the 27 I counted, I noted that just 4, or 15 percent, were minorities. Therefore 85 percent of those present were white.

In his willful distortion of the facts, Mr. Grace states that when a child leaves the public schools to enroll in a charter school, the district gets to keep that child’s state Education Cost Sharing allocation and “distribute most of that surplus among their other schools.”

A close examination of the findings of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Taskforce indicates that the Bridgeport Public Schools is the most underfunded district in Connecticut — to the tune of approximately $43 million each year. Even worse, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding has found that the state underfunds the Bridgeport Public Schools by $5,446 per student or approximately $119 million each year.

Meanwhile, each year our state spends $11,000 per charter-school student and $8,600 per Bridgeport Public School student. What “surplus” is Mr. Grace possibly referring to? What credibility does he hope to establish with the people of Bridgeport and of our state? How uneducated does he think we are?

The chief financial officer for the Bridgeport Public Schools, a highly experienced and educated Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Barnard in mathematics and education, conducted an in-depth analysis of how much real money the charter schools in Bridgeport will siphon away from the Bridgeport Public Schools budget. In addition, she provided an in-depth analysis of the loss of federal Title I funding that follows children who enroll in a charter school located in Bridgeport.

In total, the CFO forecast that the charter schools operating in our city, including the sixth charter school planned to open this fall, all told will siphon away over $26 million dollars from our school system over the next five years —already the most underfunded school district in Connecticut.

Although Bridgeport is allowed to seek state reimbursement for all transportation costs associated with the charter schools in the city, in all the years it has applied for such, in fact, the Bridgeport Public Schools has never received a single dollar of reimbursement for this. Although $20 million dollars of this money will be counted in the Bridgeport Public School’s state Education Cost Sharing grant, not a dime will go to the academic or socio-emotional needs of a single Bridgeport Public Schools student.

Highly compensated charter school advocates such as Mr. Grace consistently perpetuate the “waiting list” myth. Last year 6,000 children applied to gain entry to our Bridgeport magnet schools. Only 1,200 gained admission through a blind, randomized lottery; 4,800 students were placed on a “waiting list.

In this accounting, each student is counted only once. In contrast, charter school proponents often double or triple count, claiming that there are 3,600 students on waiting lists in Connecticut. If a child applies to three different charter schools, the charter school lobbyists count one student three times for their waiting-list story. That leaves us with an important question for our legislators: If there are 3,600 or perhaps more likely 1,200 students in the entire state waiting to enter a charter school, why should that be more important than the fact that there are truly 4,800 individual students on one waiting list for a magnet school in Bridgeport? Shouldn’t the state focus its limited resources on magnet school options? After all, in Bridgeport, every single magnet school outperforms every charter school.

In closing, Mr. Grace claims that the CEA’s statements were “patently false” and that they were choosing to “ignore the facts.” In fact, as it pertains to Bridgeport and its public schools, the “patently false” statements were made entirely by Mr. Grace, not the CEA.

Maria Pereira is a former member of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

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