Despite daunting odds, 24 people have informed state officials they are interested in opening a new charter school in the state sometime in the next two school years.
Proposed schools include a new charter in Hartford for high school dropouts, a science academy in New Haven for middle school students, and a dual language program in Windham.
"We've gotten a lot of variety" among the proposals, said Debra Kurshan, the chief turnaround officer for the State Department of Education.
Nine of the 24 letters of interest submitted to the state by last week's deadline were for new schools in Bridgeport. Four schools are proposed for New Haven and two schools in Hartford and Windham.
Only two new charter schools have opened in the state in the last seven years, although 27 applications were filed. The state didn't accept applications at all in 2006 and 2009.
But education reformers and charter school applicants are hopeful their luck may soon change now that Stefan Pryor is the state's top education leader. Pryor helped open Achievement First's Amistad Academy in New Haven before becoming the state's education commissioner in 2011.
"Call me an optimist," said Jo Lutz, the director of the Connecticut Charter School Network. "I think there is more political will behind opening new charters."
The preliminary proposals ask for thousands of new charter school seats, requests that would cost the state millions if allowed to move forward. The department's proposed budget to the governor includes the anticipation that at least four new charter schools will open over the next two years.
If legislators decide to appropriate the $21.4 million necessary to open these schools and expand enrollment at the state's existing charter schools, it would add 1,863 new charter seats, a 29 percent increase over the next two school years.
With 1.1 percent of Connecticut students currently attending charter schools, the state trails behind the national average in the number of students in charters. But as the applications show, it's not for a lack of interest.
"There is definitely a huge unfilled demand," said Lutz, noting the waiting list for enrollment in these schools is just as large as the number of students attending charters in the state. "Connecticut is not seen as the the friendliest environment for charters."
Pryor said Wednesday that he is interested in opening new charter schools as soon as possible, but their fate ultimately will be determined by whether state legislators appropriate the funding.
The state faces a deficit as much as $1.2 billion for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.
"We recognize that we don't know what the budget situation will be, but we would still like to have a pipeline of strong school choice options," Kurshan told the State Board of Education during a meeting Wednesday. So "Once we have the funding we can fund them."
A rundown of some of the proposed schools
Stamford -- This school is being proposed by the president of the city's NAACP. The elementary school would depend on a social worker and high participation of students' parents to have a strong school environment. The school would also focus on use of computers in instruction.
Danbury -- This school is being proposed by a former teacher and assistant principal. The elementary school would focus on orchestra, dance, band and theatre and would be the city's first charter school.
Hartford -- Achievement First, which operates several existing charter schools across the state, is proposing opening a new kindergarten through eighth grade school in Hartford. In it's letter of interest, the school writes that the existing schools have "overwhelming demand" for enrollment and a new school is necessary to meet this "urgent need."
Hartford -- Bridges charter is being proposed to enroll students agest 16 to 21 years old who have dropped out of high school. The school is being proposed by Althea Cordner.
Windham -- A Hartford-based nonprofit that helps provide tutoring and counseling for vulnerable urban students is proposing opening a charter in Windham. With four out of 10 Windham students not graduating in four years, the school will target students most at risk of dropping out. The school would graduate students based on mastery in courses instead of "time in seat" progression.
Windham -- Elsa Nunez, the president of Eastern Connecticut State University and a vice president for the state's college system, is proposing opening a dual language elementary charter school in Windham. The school would have two teachers in each grade, one who will teach in Spanish and the other English. Windham has the highest percentage of students that come from non-English speaking households in the state. The school will be overseen by ECSU and the Windham School District.
Bridgeport -- Victory Education Partners, a group with charter schools in Chicago, is proposing opening a college-prep charter school for the state's largest city. The school focuses on quality teachers and provides routine professional development.
New Haven -- The Urban League of Southern Connecticut is proposing opening an all-boys high school in New Haven. This school will have a "school to work" program that will train students for success in a work environment through the use of apprenticeships, mentorships and internships.
Winsted -- Exploration High School is proposing opening a middle school with the same strategies as its high school. The school has small class sizes and has a high percentage of studentswith special education needs.