Op-Ed: CEA rhetoric not helping kids, public schools are

The CEA’s recent Op-Ed, “Connecticut charter schools a good idea gone awry,” made a bunch of claims that aren’t only false, they’re dishonest and frankly insulting to parents who are exercising their right to choose a school for their children.

In fact, the Op-Ed was so full of lies and misdirection that it’s hard to know where to start. Here are a few issues:

Op-ed submit bugFirst, the voter survey referenced is a farce, solely intended to score cheap political points. Respondents were 78 percent white and 15 percent black or Hispanic, completely marginalizing the opinion of people of color. In a state where black, Hispanic, and low-income students are on average three grade levels behind, drawing any conclusions from this poll is the exact sort of oppression we’ve been working to overcome for decades. We need to empower communities of color so they can take charge of their children’s education, not treat them like puppets.

Additionally, the CEA piece repeats an oft-repeated lie that charter schools divert money from their local districts. That’s patently false.

Because of state laws, when a child chooses to attend a charter rather than district school, the state maintains the district’s level of funding. The local schools keep the money (but not the students) and get to distribute most of that surplus among their other schools.

That means charter schools bring millions of dollars into a community for their own operation, as well as free up millions for local school districts by taking students, but leaving the funds. This is playing out right now in districts the CEA claimed are losing money to charters.

In Bridgeport, the state currently spends over $20 million on charter schools per-year. At the same time, over $15 million in ECS grant funding from the state is going to the local school district for students currently attending charters. So not only have charters brought tens of millions of new dollars into the community, they’ve given the district millions of dollars to redistribute in schools across the city.

The same thing is happening in Stamford, which receives about $3.5 million in state funding for its two charter schools, while the local district receives about $200,000 in state grants for those students. Those new dollars are indispensible for the city’s public education system, especially since Stamford’s two charter schools serve about 17 percent and 25 percent special education students, respectively.

The CEA is clearly aware of this, but chooses to ignore the facts.

What’s more, the CEA acts as though charter schools aren’t subject to any accountability. Their survey questions were certainly skewed so the public would say as much. But the fact is, charter schools are the most accountable public schools in the state, because if they don’t educate children well, the state closes them. No other public school is subject to that standard.

What’s more, charter schools are already required to undergo renewal hearings every five years, publish their annual 990 financial forms for the public, and are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, among many other oversights.

Charter schools welcome accountability. It’s part of the essential premise of a charter: increased accountability for increased flexibility. As a community, we support providing taxpayers the financial clarity they deserve, and take steps to ensure the people working with our students are responsible and up to the task of keeping them safe.

The truth about charter schools is that they are working for Connecticut students. Every year thousands of parents apply to a charter, because they want their child to attend a school that’s the right fit for their learning needs. Every parent in our state deserves that option. And despite the CEA’s attempt at fear-mongering, the fact that parents choose charter schools in Connecticut is not at odds with supporting local district schools across the state.

Public charter schools and their educators are working toward the same goal as every other public school in the state – to provide students with a quality education. There’s no reason to pit school models against each other when we have so much in common.

Rather, we should expand collaborative efforts and share best practices so that our state’s education system is the best it possibly can be. By doing so, we’ll be providing even more quality options for parents to choose from – whether they are charter, district, or magnet.

Let’s get back to basics. The work we all do is focused on our children. Charters are just one approach to preparing them for the future. Charters have valuable insight to share, and open eyes and ears eager to learn from public schools across the state.

We need to stop pitting public schools against public schools, and start working as one community to improve the lives of all our children.

Jeremiah Grace is Connecticut state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the non-profit membership association for public charter schools in Connecticut and New York.

 

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