Twenty years ago this weekend, Gov. John Rowland signed a bill into law and by doing so changed the trajectory of the lives of thousands of Connecticut children. The bill he signed established public charter schools in the Constitution State and was a monumental step forward that has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of children, and it will continue to do so in the coming decades.
Charter schools like the ones my children attend have answered many parents’ prayers, encouraging personal and academic growth and providing an appealing alternative to failing district schools. However, despite these schools’ high performance, they receive $4,000 less per student per year in state aid than Connecticut’s low-performing district schools. This funding gap has had a real impact on charter schools in Bridgeport and throughout the state.
As Connecticut emerges from this latest budget negotiation, it’s time for us to address a long-standing inequity in our public schools. Thanks to Connecticut’s outdated and unequal system of funding public education, thousands of our highest-need kids are being valued less by the state, given less money simply because of the type of public school they attend. Charter school students are given just 74 cents on the dollar compared to their peers in traditional public schools.
2015 was a landmark year for public charter schools in Connecticut. A record 9,000 children are now enrolled in charters and two new schools opened in Bridgeport and Stamford, bringing the state’s total to 24. And a new study shows that accountability measures recently signed into law make Connecticut’s charter law stronger than ever. Moving forward, we must pay close attention to how public charter school students are treated compared to their peers. State leaders should read NACSA’s study on national charter laws and look to other states on how to bring approval process up to par. And they should also applaud themselves for the accountability measures passed this June.
Connecticut’s funding system for all public schools is fundamentally broken. This dysfunction causes the incessant fighting over the state budget each year. Connecticut needs a funding solution for every school – charter, district, magnet, and the rest – that ensures that all students have the resources they need to learn.
We know that a great education can be life changing for so many students. Looking ahead, we must continue to ensure that we have a funding system that puts a great public education within reach of every child. The economic and civic future of our students, our communities and our state, depends on it.
The bad news for education in Connecticut is that in the state budget, which takes effect on July 1, money will be spent on charter schools for 2 percent of Connecticut children that would have been better spent on the other 98 percent of Connecticut children. The good news is if the Connecticut legislature wants to address that kind of injustice, it now has the power to do so.
Can you imagine a neighborhood in West Hartford in which two or three of the children on the cul-de-sac attend a charter school, funded with $11,000 per student per year of taxpayer money and promoted as a superior school, while all the other children in the neighborhood attend what is said to be an inferior school also funded by taxpayer money? Can you imagine New Canaan parents sending their children to an elementary school in which 23.78 percent of the children are suspended? The answer to these and many others regarding charter schools is: Of course not.
The state Appropriations Committee has proposed defunding Capital Prep Harbor, along with other charter schools across the state. They didn’t do it because we’re in a budget deficit; they did it because they don’t recognize the great work charter schools are doing for Connecticut children – including families that can’t afford other options, and kids of color, like my daughter. State legislators need to support Capital Prep Harbor. If the school isn’t funded in the state budget, it will be devastating to my daughter and hundreds of other families in Bridgeport.
Each legislative session, we engage in the same political fights that yield only incremental progress towards the goal of providing quality education for all children. These unproductive debates, which pit traditional schools against public charter schools, underscore the need to solve our fundamentally broken funding model that currently plagues our education system.
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.
Last week, the state’s Appropriations Committee proposed a budget that includes cuts of more than $20 million dollars to public charter schools — including funding for Capital Prep Harbor and Stamford Charter School for Excellence — two approved schools that families have been demanding and are counting on. This budget would stifle the progress we’ve made in the past few years and would hurt the future of children across our state.