The Connecticut State Board of Education (SBE), the Connecticut General assembly, and the governor should revisit the way that charter schools are approved and funded.
Connecticut has slipped from 20 out of 40 in 2010 to 31 out of 43 in 2021 in the quality of charter school laws. The state must reverse this trend and immediately overhaul the charter school laws in order to foster an environment that strengthens oversight, improves the quality and quantity of excellent charter schools and ensures transparency and continuity in the charter school approval process.
Connecticut enacted its charter school law in 1996 in order to help close the achievement gap and promote quality educational options in our state. Connecticut charter laws ensure that all charter schools in Connecticut are public schools and are run by not-for-profit organizations. The SBE then governs the charter school through a series of evaluations that assess the School’s performance, management, student population and legal compliance. Through this process the accountability of charter schools is more stringent than that of traditional public schools.
The Connecticut State Board of Education issued initial certificates of approval for a charter school in Norwalk and one in Danbury on Oct. 3, 2018.
The SBE, through the State Department of Education, then transmitted copies of the approval documents to the Education and Appropriations committees of the General Assembly. The charter school law states that “The Legislature may appropriate funds to CSDE to provide operating grants to charter schools.”
This is where Connecticut’s charter school laws are inherently flawed. The way the law was modified in 2015 created a new dual process for charter school approval. The two charter schools who were given the initial certificates of approval are now stuck in political limbo without the funds to open their schools.
The legislature has failed to appropriate funds necessary to open these two schools. The communities who worked so diligently to gain the initial certificates of approval are now engaged in a bitter political fight with some local legislators to open their schools. This fight became particularly bitter and divisive in Danbury where the mostly Black and brown community felt ignored and who desperately needed an educational option.
The dual approval process shows a lack of trust of the SDE/SBE to make decisions. Shouldn’t they be the experts to approve schools – and, if we trust those experts, why isn’t the funding for a charter automatic after the SBE approves that charter school?
In addition, districts don’t have to ask the legislature for more money when they open a new school because their city/town grew. They just report to the SDE an increase in student enrollment and get the additional per pupil money. So, why does the legislature get to essentially make a school-by-school decision for charters?
The bad charter law is also keeping other cities from having charter options because it makes opening new schools so insanely hard. We understand that everything is governed by politics and in many instances the influences of special interests groups.
Connecticut has created an almost hostile environment for charter schools. This only hurts communities and our ability to explore a more effective way to use some of the positive traits inherent in charter school to better serve our students.
Danbury is the only alliance city without a charter school.
Some of the most ardent anti-charter school legislators in Danbury have refused to allow the state to allocate the funds for the charter school to be opened. After three and a half years of deadlock and frustration, the community in Danbury began to organize and take their case directly to the governor and state leaders with their calls for reform. We are still hopeful that the delegation will end their opposition an allow the charter school to received the 1.3 million it needs from the state to open.
The chaos and bitterness caused by the dual process in Danbury is a perfect example of the critical flaws in Connecticut’s charter school Law. After years of struggle and what is seen by members of the Danbury community as neglect by the governor and state leaders the calls to fix this broken dual system grows louder.
In each legislative session, and each political cycle, the bitterness and vitriol grow. From the formation of political movements, advocacy organizations and even PAC’s the next election cycle seems to be heading into the “mother of all battles” between some elected politicians and many of the groups that have grown out of the fight for the charter school.
To the leadership of LEAD the solution is clear. At the end of the day we are talking about a school. LEAD and its coalition partners seek to impress upon the governor and legislative leaders to correct the injustice that the Danbury community has been subjected to. We ask that the governor include the funding for the charter school in Danbury in his 2022 budget.
The lessons from Danbury are very clear. To allow an entire community and approved schools to be blocked indefinitely by local politicians is a horrible way to manage the educational needs of our state. A better way forward must be explored that trusts the expertise of the SDE to properly manage the approval and funding of Charter Schools in the State of Connecticut.
Lucas Pimentel is the CEO of LEAD.