The charter school law in Connecticut is inherently broken. In 2015 Connecticut created a dual system for how charter schools are approved and funded.
After an arduous process that sometimes takes years, the State Board of Education finally votes on whether to approve a prospective operator and awards them their initial certificate of approval. After all of that, the operator still does not have a charter!
The legislature must then approve the funds for that school to operate. After the funds are allocated, the school gets its full charter and can open its doors.
This system is confusing and opens up the possibility for the enemies of charter schools to then block the funding of a school. They leave schools like those approved in 2018 in Norwalk and Danbury without the necessary funds to open indefinitely. Moreover, keeping those communities in limbo.
After seeing the state senator from Danbury and others in the Danbury delegation purposely block a state community school, the leaders in Hartford just watched from afar. It was shocking that state leaders were washing their hands of a problem they had themselves created. The favorite line of state leaders was, “It is a problem between the Danbury delegation and the community they serve.”
These state leaders had transformed parents, students, and a school into an organized movement. Keeping the approved school without funds began to rip the Danbury community apart. The four members of the Danbury delegation waged a relentless misinformation campaign about the “corporatization” of our public school system. The community who had fought so hard to get their school approved responded by organizing, marching, going to the capitol, writing op-eds, testifying, and even directly calling out the senator from Danbury and other delegates.
As Connecticut grapples with the aftermath of the Sheff Vs. O’Neill Supreme Court decision, the actions of State Sen. Julie Kushner and State Reps. Kenneth Gucker, Bob Godfrey, and Raghib Allie Brennan only perpetuate the lack of access to high-quality educational options — options desperately needed by the mostly community of color in Danbury advocating for the charter school.
Their posture of “we know what is best” for the Black and brown community in Danbury is a clear example of what is wrong with our political system. At the core of Sheff Vs. O’Neill was the idea of improving access to high-quality educational options for students of color. The Danbury delegation now stands as the only obstacle for an entire community of color to access an educational option they have been fighting for since 2016.
Danbury has become a battleground over a state school approved in 2018. After many attempts, brave leaders in the statehouse and even the governor have begun to pay attention to the “mess” this dual process caused in Danbury. Many leaders are beginning to rethink their position of letting a few legislators block a state school indefinitely.
Today legislative leaders are trying to ensure future approved schools and communities do not go through this nightmare and that the Danbury Community finally has the funds it needs to open its school. We are very proud of the chairs and other state leaders who have worked diligently to ensure this issue in Danbury. Moreover, enact laws that protect future communities from the type of chaos this broken system has caused the Danbury Community.
The Danbury community that after having their school approved in October 2018, ended up in a five-year struggle for funding that resulted in the community losing its original charter school operator. The struggle, the lack of representation, and the repressive and uncompromising tactics of these four delegates have left thousands of community members across the state angry, frustrated, and more determined than ever to fight for justice. On May 1, the Danbury community and allied organizations were to march for justice against what they dubbed “The Gang of Four.” Our government is supposed to be a government of the people by the people and for the people and not the other way around.
We still hope that the governor, state, and party leaders intervene in Danbury and stop an overreach and abuse of power by members of the Danbury delegation that have taken it upon themselves to permanently leave an approved state charter school without the funds to open their school is.
Doing so will be the best for all stakeholders. Sanity must trump ideology and blind partisanship. Eventually, those who will gain the most when the issue of funding for the Danbury school is resolved during this legislative session will be those politicians who oppose it the most. The Charter school issue has galvanized thousands of parents and community leaders who now see the ballot as their only recourse.
Ensuring that the charter school debacle in Danbury has been addressed by the end of the legislative session will be a blessing for those leaders who are only hurting themselves with their continued opposition.
LEAD and our allies are looking forward to a world where cooperation and respect replace the divisiveness over a school and the vitriol. We look forward to being partners in tackling the ever-growing challenges of our educational system and the inequities that still exist.
In a few years, when the charter school is flourishing in Danbury, it will be a distant memory. Many former opponents will be proud of the success of their community charter school. Furthermore, just as it happened in many of our major cities, former opponents of charter schools will learn to see their benefits. They will be able to walk the halls of their fantastic community school and wonder how they could have opposed something so positive for our students, parents, and community. Countless legislative leaders say, “I used to oppose charter schools until one opened in my city or until I became involved with one.”
Charter schools should not have to be controversial; They should not be so polarizing. The state of Connecticut needs to re-evaluate how it approves, funds critically, and manages our public charter schools so that they aren’t seen as competing with our traditional public schools. We see a world where charter schools are included in the general funding formula and budget and funded fairly and equitably.
We are talking about schools, choices, and what is best for our children and communities.
Lucas Pimentel is CEO of LEAD — Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity.