The General Assembly needs facts, not falsehoods

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A recent story in the CT Mirror described a presentation to reporters a few weeks ago by the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the largest teachers’ union, in which union leaders attempted to expose the spending practices of charter schools. The problem is that the report the CEA was referencing was deliberately misleading –seeking to villainize charter schools during a tight budget year in which education funding will be a key issue.

For example, the CEA identified the compensation of some charter employees as a problem, comparing the salaries of superintendents to those of charter staff. Indeed, the CT Mirror story notes, few superintendents make over $200,000 –as compared with the higher salaries of some charter leaders. However, the comparison itself is a dramatic oversimplification.

Take, for example, Michael Duggan, Executive Director of Domus. Domus does have two charter schools overseen by Duggan, but it also has eight other programs that he runs. Beyond providing educational opportunities for some of Connecticut’s highest-need students, Domus also provides services to the community and the homeless. Does it even make sense to compare Duggan’s role as leader of this nonprofit to the role of a superintendent?

In another example, CEA Executive Director, Mark Waxenberg, (who himself makes over $200,000 per year, according to the CEA’s Form 990) claims that escalating administrative costs have made charters into “big business in Connecticut.” The CEA report identifies growing management fees at some charters, and argues that growth is disproportionate compared to per pupil expenditures.

But looking again at Domus, we asked them why management fees had seen so much growth. Apparently, the discrepancy in administrative costs between years results from a state request to reclassify some of their line items. The salaries of ten full-time family advocates —who serve as counselors between Domus’ two schools— are now being counted toward administrative costs.

When a report such as the one released by the CEA utterly ignores nuance or context, it isn’t a sound foundation for an honest and reasonable conversation about how to improve the state’s education funding. Instead, take a look at these six principles for improved education funding, agreed to by a coalition of education stakeholders representing varied constituencies. In the interest of full disclosure, my organization is one of the signatories. We have been debating and analyzing and learning in great detail for more than 2 years in pursuit of real solutions.

I have full confidence in Connecticut’s legislators. When they seek to address education funding, they will have to make difficult decisions based on facts, not half-truths or falsehoods. Their success will require them to engage in real dialogues based on accurate information. I encourage all stakeholders to participate.

Jeffrey Villar is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), a nonprofit organization that seeks to narrow Connecticut’s widest-in-the-nation achievement gap. To learn more about CCER, visit ctedreform.org.

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