Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has been cleared by the state’s ethics panel to make decisions on the network of charter schools he used to be closely tied to.

Pryor, who helped open Amistad Academy in New Haven and was a member of the board responsible for the governance of numerous charter schools in the state, asked the panel for the ruling last month so he could begin shaping his education agenda, which may include the expansion of new charter schools.

“I appreciate the fact that the commissioner is double checking the [state] statutes so carefully. It’s a good move on his part,” David Gay, leader of the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board, said before the panel unanimously ruled there was no conflict.

The opinion outlines that because Pryor has never had any financial stake in the charter schools and is no longer associated with the organization there is no ethics problem.

“Public service is a public trust and must not be used for personal financial gain,” the opinion reads. “There would be no financial gain to him personally.”

The first decision Pryor will likely have to make on his old network of schools is whether to allow Achievement First to open a new high school in Hartford. The group has asked legislators to sign off on a new school so its middle school students have a school to move onto. If it moves forward the state will be responsible for providing $9,400 per student enrolled, or $4 million a year. Efforts to open other new charter schools in the state have routinely been unsuccessful.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy backed his education chief’s being able to make decisions on charter school earlier this month, calling it “utterly and fantastically ridiculous” for Pryor to recuse himself.

“We only have public charter schools in the state of Connecticut. That’s all that is authorized. They are public schools. So in essence what you are saying is, because someone is involved in public schools they shouldn’t be allowed to be involved in public schools — it’s utterly and fantastically ridiculous.”

Currently, there are 18 charter schools in the state, in which 5,723 students are enrolled. About half attend Achievement First’s nine charters in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven. The state spends $52.8 million a year on these schools.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education says that with less than 1 percent of public school students attending charters, Connecticut ranks well below the national average. That’s not for lack of demand: The State Department of Education says charter school enrollment would double if everyone on the wait list got a seat.

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Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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