5th grade students in a dual language class at Rigler Elementary School in Portland. Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / www.CtMirror.org

The State Department of Education earlier this month received five applications for new charter schools.

It’s been nearly four years since the State Board of Education last gave the nod to a new charter. While it is ultimately up to the legislature to determine whether it will fund additional charter schools, the history has been that when the state department approves applications, funding for additional charter schools follows.

Twitter message after one group submitted their application

That process has frustrated some top legislators, who say they have been unfairly pressured by a powerful charter school 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 that 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.”

State law recently changed, however, in an attempt to make clear that the state board’s approval is only initial. At the same time, the law was changed to require the education department to review charter applications annually.

Here’s a quick preview of the five proposed schools under this redefined process:

  • Community First School would be located in the North End of Hartford, hopefully in an existing under-enrolled, struggling school. The school would open in August 2018 with kindergarten though Grade 2. Over the next four years it would add additional grades to become a preschool through Grade 6 school enrolling 320 students.
  • Danbury Collegiate charter school would open in August 2019 and would be associated with CT Institute for Communities, which currently provides several safety-net services. The school would start with kindergarten the first year and eventually enroll students up to Grade 4 for a total school population of 250 students.
  • Danbury Prospect Charter School would open in September 2018 and would be associated with Prospect Schools, which operates charter schools in New York. The school would open with only Grade 6 and eventually would enroll 550 students through Grade 9.
  • Norwalk Charter School for Excellence would open in September 2019 and be associated with Stamford Charter School for Excellence. The school would open with pre-kindergarten through Grade 2 and expand to Grade 5 for a total of nearly 400 students.
  • Winchester Academy would open in September 2018 and start with pre-kindergarted to Grade 2. The school would eventually enroll 136 students through Grade 6.

The State Board of Education has 90 days to decide whether to approve the application and grant an initial certificate.

Timothy R. Goodwin, who wants to open the school in Hartford, said city students are in desperate need of high-quality options.

“I would hope but I am not going to make predictions whether we are going to get appropriations from the state,” he said.

The Northeast Charter Schools Network said in a statement, “These schools are in the beginning stages of the approval process. The SBE’s role here is to review these applications, which we believe are stellar. The decision to fund these schools rests in the hands of the General Assembly.”

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

Nearly 9,600 students currently attend charter schools, roughly one of every 57 public school students in Connecticut. The number of students attending these schools has surged in recent years.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that 1.7 percent of Connecticut’s public school students attended charter schools in 2014-15, which put the state in 35th place for the rate of students attending charters.

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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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