By Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network
Amid difficult budget negotiations, legislators in Hartford should not break the promises they made to thousands of Connecticut children seeking entry to public charter schools.
As the membership association for Connecticut’s charter schools, we hope legislators scrap proposals to cut funding for key education reforms before they can even start.
Last year’s nearly unanimous education reform bill was a serious step toward improving all of Connecticut’s public schools — including charters. It provided fairer funding for existing public charter school students, cleared the way for more new public charter schools to open across the state and created a Commissioner’s Network to turn around chronically failing public schools.
Cutting funding for these reforms before the ink is dry on last year’s law would be a huge blow to the 65,000 Connecticut kids still stuck in failing public schools, for whom the reform law was a lifeline.
Rev. Eldren Morrison, pastor of the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church in New Haven’s notorious “crime corridor,” understands the need for more lifelines for youth. In his words, “The reality where I live is very stark: We either do a better job educating kids today, or I’ll be burying them tomorrow.”
The legislature’s budget-making Appropriations Committee has proposed to do only half the job for charter schools. To be fair, the committee did preserve the funding Governor Malloy proposed for existing charter school children. That’s important because students already in charter schools should be treated more like their friends in district schools when it comes to funding.
But the committee retreated from a key part of the reform law — funding for new charter schools. Its proposal would invest $47.1 million less than the governor in education reform measures overall, in part, by cutting the number of new charter schools from nine to four. What’s worse is that the proposal wholly eliminates funding for new state charter schools, the most proven model for charter schools in Connecticut.
There are almost 4,000 names on charter wait lists. Why shouldn’t we be trying to create as many new public school options as possible?
But several of the most promising state charter school proposals already before the State Department of Education would never see the light of day if the committee’s proposed budget cuts won out.
This includes Bob Rath and the proposed Path Academy in Windham, which seeks to re-engage students who are falling behind in school. Through a mix of project-based and blended learning, Path Academy will help these over-age, under-credited high school students catch up and acquire the skills they need to succeed in life.
There is also the proposed Brass City Charter School in Waterbury. With almost 80 percent of district students qualifying for free- or reduced-priced lunch, Brass City would provide a new option for children attending one of the lowest-performing school districts in the state.
Gov. Malloy is trying to clear the way so Path Academy, Brass City and others can open more high-performing state charter schools, but he needs the legislature’s help to seal the deal as budget negotiations near the finish line.
If we are serious about giving our kids the tools they need to succeed, we must support as many good public schools as possible. The parents of Connecticut demand them. Our communities need them. And we owe it to our children to do so.
Bill Phillips is president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, a regional advocacy organization advocating for the more than 200 charter schools in Connecticut and New York. Its mission is to support and expand high-quality charter schools in the region.