Myths about Bridgeport charters hurt the entire community

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Let’s get one thing straight: Bridgeport charter schools do not siphon money away from traditional public schools.

This is not only the most pervasive myth about charter schools, it’s also the most damaging.

As former Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira illustrates in her recent Op-ed “Bridgeport public schools losing big money to charters,” charter schools are easy targets for anti-reform activists looking to misdirect and divide our community.

All you have to do is keep repeating the words “millionaires and billionaires,” come up with clever half-truths and hope that no one does any research into how state education funding actually works.

In her Op-ed, Pereira paints the usual anti-charter narrative where scheming, nameless, white millionaires and billionaires are stealing money from neighborhood schools.

Ironically, she’s the one accusing others of “deliberate propaganda.”

What she doesn’t say is that 86 percent of Connecticut’s charter school students in grades K – 8 are outperforming their neighborhood peers.  Unlike Bridgeport’s admittedly excellent magnet schools, they are doing this without being selective.

That’s not the only thing Pereira forgets to mention in her op-ed.

She attacks the State Director of Northeast Charter Schools Network, Jeremiah Grace, charging that he “willfully distorted the facts” when he correctly stated that districts keep the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant allocation for students who leave for charter schools in an earlier Op-Ed published by the CT Mirror.

Pereira misdirects readers by citing several studies that show Bridgeport public schools are underfunded, a fact that no one, including Grace, was disputing.

Several studies, including one published by the The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), indicate that Bridgeport Public Schools are not receiving adequate funding; however, charters are not the problem. If anything, charters are actually alleviating some of Bridgeport’s funding burden.

In Connecticut, per-pupil funding does not “follow the child.” In fact, public and charter schools are not even funded through the same channels. While the state funds traditional public schools through the ECS grant, charter schools receive a separate state grant which comes from a different line item in the state budget.

Though state law technically doesn’t count state charter schools students in the ECS grant funding formula, there is also a “hold harmless” clause written into the law.  In practice, this has the effect of districts continuing to receive money for students who leave the district for charter schools.

According to estimates published last year by the advocacy group Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), over the next two years, Bridgeport Public Schools will receive over $33 million dollars in funding for students they are not educating.

This is the “surplus” Pereira insists Grace is making up.

She then goes on to cite an “in-depth analysis” done by Bridgeport Public School’s CFO Marlene Siegel as proof that charters are siphoning off $26 million from traditional public schools. Conveniently, there is no link to this report – probably because it’s deeply flawed.

Siegel’s financial analysis does not factor in the money Bridgeport receives from their ECS grant for students who left for charter schools, nor does it address the fact that the district pays for transportation and special education services regardless of whether students attend a charter or traditional public school.

The deception doesn’t end there, either. In addition to perpetuating the myth that charters are siphoning away money, Pereira makes the absurdly misleading claim that Bridgeport’s public schools receive less in state funding.

While she’s technically correct when she says Bridgeport receives only $8,600 in state funding, she’s also being dishonest by only considering state money and not all taxpayer funding.

In fact, if you factor all public sources of funding, Bridgeport’s traditional public schools received $2,000 more per student in taxpayer money than charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, state charter schools do not receive local funding, nor do they receive the same amount in federal grants.

These numbers don’t just come from thin air either, as Pereira might imply. These per-pupil calculations are based on the 2014-15 ED001 forms from each school, available from the State Department of Education’s Bureau of Grants Management.

It’s disappointing that a former member of the Bridgeport Board of Education would stoop to making these misleading statements, but that seems to be standard practice for the most vocal of the anti-reform movement. So much more could be done to improve our schools if they didn’t.

Megan DeSombre is the writer of the Blog Education Bridgeport!

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