New charter seats will strip Bridgeport Public Schools of resources

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A high school classroom in Bridgeport.

On July 19, 2017, the unelected, governor-appointed Connecticut State Board of Education approved 504 additional seats in state charter schools for next year, with 154 of those seats going to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport.

GO FIGURE: Connecticut is in a budget crisis with every expense being monitored, yet new charter school seats, which cost the state $11,000 each, are being initiated. The cost will be more than $5.5 million.

The new seats will cost the beleaguered and impoverished Bridgeport Public Schools money it doesn’t have to spend and will strip them of much needed resources. The Bridgeport Board of Education unanimously voted against charter expansion because the cost of adding grades requires the Bridgeport Public Schools to pay for transportation and other services at an additional location.

The expansion plan for Capital Prep Harbor School, approved by the State Board of Education in 2014, called for three grades to be added in 2017-2018, but Capital Prep Harbor School requested and was granted the expansion to six new grades, which increased the costs of services from Bridgeport Public Schools from $200,000 to $400,000 for 2017-2018.

Capital Prep Harbor School does not serve the population of Bridgeport equitably. Based on the make-up of the community, nearly half of the students at Capital Prep Harbor should be Hispanic, but only 1/5 are, and Capital Prep Harbor has zero students who have English as their second language although there are ample children in Bridgeport who have English as their second language.

Capital Prep Harbor School was approved by the State Board of Education in April 2014 as a school with its stated mission to serve the “diverse communities of Bridgeport and surrounding communities.” Capital Prep Harbor School has failed to implement that mission because of its small percentage of Hispanic students and its total lack of students with English as their second language.

PLUS … Steve Perry, the founder of the Capital Prep Harbor School and its chief spokesperson at the July 19th hearing, has been found by state auditors to have violated the lottery system at his former school in Hartford, Capital Preparatory School. Instead of the students at Capital Prep being chosen by lottery, he, as principal, handpicked a significant number of students (131 in three years), chiefly for their athletic talents. When asked by a reporter at the July 19th hearing if he was using similar illegal practices at Capital Preparatory Harbor School, he refused to answer.

After the revelations about the lottery violations at Capital Prep, state education officials were asked if they intended to audit the lottery at Capital Prep Harbor. A State Department of Education spokeswoman replied, “Not at this time.” The Connecticut Post surveyed enrollment practices in the six charter schools in Bridgeport. Five of the schools explained the methods they use to properly conduct their lotteries. The sixth school, Capital Preparatory Harbor refused to answer the newspaper’s questions.

The State Board of Education scheduled the meeting to approve the new charter seats without informing the Superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools. The Superintendent, Aresta Johnson, was told by the State Department of Education that she had until August 4, 2017 to file a written reaction to the Capital Prep Harbor plan to expand their number of seats. She found out about the July 19th meeting by chance. She attended that hearing and strongly opposed the expansion of charter school seats, stating that the costs would harm the children in the Bridgeport Public Schools.

PLUS … Nationally, charter schools have no greater record of success than public schools although the student population of charter schools is more select than the population of traditional public schools. Charter schools have fewer special education students, fewer ELL students, and fewer students from stable homes. A report commissioned by the Connecticut State Department of Education entitled Evaluating the Academic Performance of Choice Programs in Connecticut compared student achievement in public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, and among those students bused from urban areas to the suburbs and did not find evidence that students in charter schools had greater achievement than other students, even with their more select student body.

Charter schools are not public schools although they call themselves that when it serves the purpose of getting public money but declare they are not public schools when there are requests for transparency in how the public money is spent. Charter schools violate the democratic principle that the people should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent. In public school districts, the elected school boards provide that oversight. With charter schools, it is all secret, and the profit motive is evident as the numbers of criminal cases of fraud that have occurred in charter schools demonstrate.

PLUS… Charter schools promote segregation. The NAACP, in October 2016, recognized the racism inherent in the concept of charter schools and called for ” a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.” Roslyn M. Brock, Chair of the NAACP Board of Directors said, “The NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children. We are dedicated to eliminating the severe racial inequities that continue to plague the education system.”

THIS ADDS UP TO ONE THING: There is something rotten in the state of Connecticut.

What can we do about it?

Fighting the corruption is an uphill battle. Big money from the charter school industry funds political campaigns in our state. The State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education are not elected by us; they are appointed by the Governor. Venture capitalists support charter schools because they are moneymaking operations. So how do we citizens of Connecticut make a dent in that monied political structure?

What we can do is take a deep breath and remember what Edmund Burke said: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Then we can call one another, start talking, and get busy.

Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.

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