A tough, but correct, budget decision on Connecticut charter schools

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CTMirror

Gov. Malloy speaks during a rally for charter school advocates at the state Capitol.

In a harrowing budget season, the legislature’s Appropriations Committee decided to remove a $4 million budget allotment for two new charter schools in our state.

What must have been a difficult decision is also a prudent one on our legislators’ part, as our precious resources this budget cycle should go to those schools and programs that serve all students and which serve those children in the greatest need of our support.

Charter schools have seen growth funding in our state for over a decade that has far surpassed what the traditional public schools have been receiving via the Education Cost Sharing formula: 1,400 percent to 60 percent respectively, according to the co-chair of the committee.

Understandably this has upset the people who were looking forward to opening those schools and the families who were seeking seats there. Their call is that they have wait lists of students who deserve to go to a great school and that they cannot wait.

I took a look at the most recent data available from the State Department of Education to look at the populations served at the charter schools as compared to the public schools in their communities. The accompanying chart below shows the following:

School Grades Served English Learners Special Needs Students Free/Reduced Lunch Home-
less
Minority Students with Pre-K Avg. Teacher Experience  Teachers w/masters degrees
Jumoke Charter-Hartford Pk-12 0% 3% 58% 0 100% 89% 6 yrs 47%
Achievement First Charter -Hartford K-12 5% 8% >95% 0 100% 100% 3 yrs 35%
Capital Preparatory-Magnet Pk-12 3% 9% 43% 0 75% N/A 6 yrs 46%
Hartford Public School District Pk-12 18% 14% 85% 110 89% 62% 12 yrs 53%
Achievement First -Bridgeport K-12 11% 8% 82% 0 99% 92% 3 yrs  30%
The Bridge Academy-Charter Grades 7-12 0% 15% 81% 0 99% N/A 11 yrs 71%
New Beginnings-Charter K-8 0% 7% 83% 0 99% 74% 5 yrs 89%
Park City Prep- Charter Grades 6-8 1% 10% 70% 0 96% N/A 5 yrs 44%
Bridgeport Public School District Pk-12 14% 13% 100% 79 91% 63% 13 yrs 89%
Side by Side Charter -Stamford Pk-8 7% 5% 36% 0 79% 77% 10 yrs 77%
Trailblazers-Charter Grades 6-8 0% 24% 88% 0 96% N/A 4 yrs 67%
Stamford Public School District Pk-12 13% 9% 50% 40 66% 77% 14 yrs 90%
Amistad Academy Charter K-12 8% 5% 81% 0 98% N/A 4 yrs 37%
Elm City Charter-New Haven K-12 5% 7% 74% 0 99% 84% 3 yrs 37%
New Haven Public School District Pk-12 14% 11% 78% 292 85% 72% 10 yrs 69%
Highville Charter School-Hamden Pk-8 0% 2.60% 71% 0 99% 88% 9 yrs 57%
Hamden Public Schools Pk-12 4% 12% 40% 7 58% 79% 13 yrs 87%
Integrated Day Charter School -Norwich Pk-8 8% 10% 30% 0 39% 97% 9 yrs 78%
Norwich Public Schools Pk-8 13% 16% 70% 47 63% 83% 11 yrs 86%
Odyssey Community School-Manchester K-8 0% 10% 43% 0 55% N/A 4 yrs 46%
Manchester Public Schools Pk-12 5% 14% 54% 2 59% 72% 13 yrs 57%
Interdistrict School for the Arts and Communication Grades 6-8 14% 16% 67% 0 72% N/A 8 yrs 76%
New London Public School District Pk-12 20% 17% 79% 24 83% 66% 13 yrs 78%
Source: State Department of Education latest school profiles available, 2012-13

Traditional public schools serve greater numbers of English Language Learners, homeless, special needs students and those who receive free or reduced lunch – all at greater cost. Charter schools serve fewer of these students, and in the case of homeless students, none.

Traditional public schools employ teachers with far greater number of years of teaching experience and greater numbers with master’s degrees – a greater cost. The masters degrees are required within three years, and serve their diverse student bodies. They accept all children, and are receiving students with less early childhood education.

Charter schools accept students by lottery, and are enrolling students with greater early childhood education experience. Early childhood education has been shown to contribute to greater achievement in students. If your goal is to demonstrate success, it makes sense to admit students with early childhood experience over those without it.

This is not a balanced picture.

Not included in this chart is the enormous differential between the charter schools use of suspension and expulsion of their students compared to their host city public schools. You may find that information here.

Probably the most heartbreaking finding of this project was that there was not one student enrolled in a charter school who was homeless, but there were many homeless children enrolled in their host city public schools. This is not an urban phenomenon. Districts such as Fairfield, Greenwich and Westport are also educating homeless students.

It is clear that if a school limits its number of English language learners and special needs students, does not accept homeless children, accepts fewer low-income students and more with a greater amount of early childhood education it can increase test scores and claim things such as “success,” “achievement” and “excellence.”

I sincerely hope that this is not the path that neither our state nor our nation will allow to grow and prosper in public education. It is in direct opposition to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 when President Johnson’s original intent of that law was to serve and protect our most vulnerable student populations from just this kind of conduct.

The vision of that law has become twisted in our nation, granting “autonomy” for charter schools and “accountability” for traditional Public Schools. When you stack a team and allow them to play by different rules with referees for only one side, the stacked team’s outcome can be predicted, yet the data shows us that a fair game is not being played.

The call on charter schools is to modify their practices to admit students who have the same pre-k experience, who are English Language Learners, and who have special needs that align proportionally with their host cities school districts , while hiring the qualified staff to meet those needs, in addition to not removing students throughout the year (sending them back to the public schools,) in order to continue to receive our
public dollars.

For these reasons, among others, they are in need of greater oversight and regulation.

I empathize with our legislators’ decisions this session, with many services and programs that benefit a wide range of our citizens which may be cut, this decision was the right thing to do at this time so that we can continue with important services
and programs that positively impact students, such as the interdistrict after school and summer enrichment opportunities,while adequately funding the schools where a majority of our state’s children are being educated-their neighborhood school,
many of which have been underfunded for some time.

I also empathize with the families who were looking to enroll in one of these schools, but there just is no growth in public school funding within the budget. If the legislature is to be equitable, flat funding for one sector of public schools must mean flat funding for charter schools as well.

I understand the charter schools have wait lists of children for spots in these schools, but there are also many more children in our state on other wait lists — waiting for the services they need. Waiting for the intensive bilingual education they need. Waiting for the staff at their schools to be full. Waiting for their facilities to be repaired. Waiting for smaller class sizes. Waiting for equipment and supplies for their schools and libraries. Waiting for playgrounds, fields and enrichment programs.
Waiting for guidance counselors, literacy specialists, OT, PT and all the other specialty staff that are desperately needed in workable ratios which they do not have now.

Those who have asked for something new, for growth, when so many barely have what they need from what already exists, are lacking in vision and support for the entirety of Connecticut’s’ students.

There is heavy pressure from charter school organizations on our representatives in Hartford to change their decision. Success is serving all of our nation’s children equally, not eliminating some from our public schools. Our promise must remain to serve and educate ALL children, no matter their circumstance, challenges or needs.

I hope that our legislators stand strong and remain committed to their vision by not funding growth in one school sector while flat funding the other. Our governor, as well.

Jennifer Jacobsen is a long time educator, mother of three, a founding member of Connecticut Unites for Student Privacy and a member of the Connecticut Parental Rights Coalition.

 

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