State Board of Education Urged to Reject Costly Charter School Expansion

Connecticut Education Association Statement

February 14, 2018

State Board of Education Urged to Reject Costly Charter School Expansion

Critical funds being drained from neighborhood public schools; hurting students in state's poorest districts

The Connecticut Education Association is urging the State Board of Education (SBOE) to put students ahead of politics and reject charter school expansion efforts that are draining critical funds away from neighborhood public schools and causing irreparable harm to the state's poorest school districts.

On Wednesday, the SBOE will consider rewarding three charter schools that deliberately and without authority exceeded their enrollment cap, at a cost to taxpayers of more than half a million dollars. This comes at a time when state budget cuts are hurting students and teachers at neighborhood public schools, and funding has been wiped out for Connecticut's Teacher Education And Mentoring (TEAM) program, one of the most highly regarded new teacher induction and support programs in the country.

"It is unconscionable that the state continues to divert precious education funds to expand charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools and to the detriment of all students, but especially minority students in the state's poorest school districts," said CEA President Sheila Cohen.

Cohen stressed, "We must put a freeze on further charter expansion and not reward charters for deliberately exceeding the state statutory enrollment caps. We urge the members of the State Board of Education to reject charter school expansion and support restoring critical funding to where it is needed most. That includes recommending funding be restored to the state's successful mentoring program for new teachers. This program is crucial to providing early-career educators with the support and professional development they need to help students achieve, especially in the state's poorest urban schools, where it is most difficult to retain teachers," said Cohen.

Last July, the BOE approved an additional 504 charter school seats for the current school year at a cost of $5.5 million. Now the board is considering 57 more seats, two for Common Ground High School in New Haven. Capitol Prep Harbor School in Bridgeport is requesting 35 additional seats, even though the school did not spend all of its state aid last year and has a $275,000 surplus. Achievement First's Elm City College Preparatory School in New Haven, which paid nearly a million dollars in management fees, rather than spending funds on student learning last year, is requesting 20 additional seats.

"The State Board of Education must be a fiduciary for education funding and not a rubber stamp for the charter school industry," said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. "The board needs to answer why state enrollment caps for charters are meaningless. We must strengthen laws on charter school accountability, and transparency for the millions in management fees being pocketed by charter management organizations."

Williams says it is time to follow the advice of the NAACP and hit the pause button on funding the expansion of charters as a result of well-documented cases of discriminatory practices, wealthy charter management organizations profiting from taxpayer dollars allocated for students, lack of transparency and accountability, worsening school segregation, and an unproven record of success.

Research shows that charter schools are not more effective than traditional public schools attended by the majority of students. Excessive suspensions and expulsions, as well as questionable enrollment practices that frequently exclude English learners and students with special needs, have raised additional concerns. Unethical practices of charter schools have been well documented across the country, including in Hartford by the FUSE/Jumoke charter school management company.

Research also shows that wealthy CMOs profit from state taxpayer dollars to the tune of nearly $7 million allocated for students, with little or no oversight or transparency as to how the money is being used.

Elm City Preparatory is run by the charter management organization Achievement First. The CEO, Dacia Toll, received a salary increase of 62 percent over five years, from $161,937 to $262,463. (See Figure 1.)

Research shows Achievement First's management fees increased 139 percent, or $3 million, over a five-year period. (See Figure 2.) Achievement First, Inc.—which charges a 13-percent cut off the top of the $11,000 per-pupil funding it receives from the state—pocketed $5.3 million in state funds allocated for students in FY 2016. (See Figure 3.)

"The state has strayed from the original intent of charter schools. Charters were supposed to be a finite number of educational laboratories, testing innovative practices that could be replicated and transplanted back into neighborhood public schools. Instead, they have not lived up to their original purpose, have not proven to perform better than traditional public schools, and have drained dollars from other public schools to create a parallel system that does not provide equal opportunity for all students," concluded Cohen.

Testimony Charter School Financials FY 2016-2017
Testimony Testimony of Donald E. Williams, Jr.
Executive Director, Connecticut Education Association
Testimony Testimony of Michael Brosnan
Bridgeport Public Schools, Beginning Teacher Coordinator
Testimony Testimony of Janet Piezzo
Plainfield Public Schools, Grade 7 Math Teacher
Plainfield Education Association President
Testimony Testimony of Kristen Ann Record
Physics Teacher; Bunnell High School; Stratford, CT
2011 Connecticut Teacher of the Year
Stratford Education Association Vice-President for Secondary Schools

The Connecticut Education Association is Connecticut's largest teachers' union, representing active and retired educators across the state.

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