After 3-year hiatus, state seeks bids to open new charter schools

The State Department of Education is seeking applications for new charter schools – sending a glimmer of hope to those waiting years to pitch their idea for a new state-funded school.

Explorations charter school

ctmirror file photo

Explorations charter school

It’s been three years since the department last requested applications for charter schools and nearly two-and-a-half since the state education board gave the nod for a new charter to open.

“We want the legislature to have a strong cadre should they decide to fund additional charter schools,” said Abbe Smith, spokeswoman for the department. “Any solicitation of charter school proposals is not a guarantee that an application will be approved or that funds will be appropriated.”

While it is ultimately up to the legislature to determine whether it will fund additional charter schools, the recent history has been that when the state department seeks applications, funding for additional charter schools often follows.

That process has frustrated some top legislators who say they have been unfairly pressured by a powerful lobby into signing off on funding new charter schools while having to cut aid for neighborhood schools to close state budget shortfalls. For example, after the state board gave the nod to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport, the operator bought highway billboard signs advertising they were accepting applications, and the charter advocacy group began running TV and radio advertisements that urged residents to “Tell the education committee: Don’t stand in the way.”

The last time the department sought charter proposals — in September 2013 — eight applications were submitted and four were ultimately approved and funded.

The year prior, seven applications were submitted and three new charter schools were approved. However, in 2011, seven applications were submitted and the education board approved none.

Currently there are nearly 9,100 students attending charter schools, roughly one out of every 57 public school students in Connecticut. Despite the three-year hiatus in accepting new applications, the number of students attending these schools has surged in recent years.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that 1.3 percent of Connecticut’s public school students attended charter schools in 2013-14, which put the state in 35th place for the rate of students attending charters.

Applicants have until mid-August to apply. The State Board of Education will decide whether to approve the application and grant an initial certificate of approval within 90 days of receiving an application.

In a statement announcing the opening of the application period, state Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said, “School choice is empowering for Connecticut students and families. Our goal is for all public school opportunities in Connecticut to be high-quality options for families and we work to support charters, magnet schools and traditional public schools to continuously improve the quality education they provide. In Connecticut, charters are located in the communities that serve the highest need families and provide high quality choices for students and families. They play an important role in offering a diverse array of high-quality public school choices for families in our state.”

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