OP-ED | Small Investment, Big Payoff
We fully support Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s education-reform package, especially his proposal to increase funding for public charter schools. As mayors of Hartford, Bridgeport and Waterbury, we understand the importance of securing economic and civic prosperity by investing in our students.
Every child needs and deserves access to a high-quality education, and Connecticut’s public charter schools have an impressive record of success. As with many issues in these difficult financial times, our support is driven by our sense of fairness and our focus on performance.
The education reform package would increase state funding to historically underfunded public charter schools by $2,600 per student, with $1,000 of that increase coming from local municipalities. In other words, a significant part of the increase would come out of our pockets—and we are still in favor of it. The proposed increase in both state and local funding begins to remedy a long-standing inequity for public charter schools, which serve some of our highest-need students and do so extraordinarily well.
Currently, public charter schools receive an average of only 70 percent of the funding that traditional district schools receive. Given the “hold harmless” provisions in the state’s funding formula, those same district schools receive both state and local funding for public charter school students, despite the fact that those students are educated elsewhere.
Governor Malloy’s education reform package would partially correct this oversight by directing local funding to the school that actually educates the child. We believe the $1,000 local contribution is a simple matter of equity. It is unfair for a child to live in our cities and receive no direct funding from the local government—and $1,000 per child is a great bargain.
In fact, in Hartford we have made voluntary contributions of operating support to our public charter school partners. We view all students as our responsibility, and we do not support a funding approach that implies public charter school students are worth less than traditional district students.
This is also a matter of performance, and, as mayors, we are responsible for attaining maximum value from taxpayer dollars. It is no secret that Connecticut is home to the nation’s largest achievement gap.
The good news is that our 17 public charter schools have an undeniable record of delivering a high-quality education to historically underserved students. These students, selected based on blind lotteries, are dramatically out-performing students in city districts and surpassing state averages on achievement tests after several years.
African-American and low-income public charter school students in Connecticut have cut the math achievement gap in half. Latino public charter school students in Connecticut have cut the gap by two-thirds. When looking at African-American achievement across Connecticut’s over 1,000 schools, three of the top 10 elementary schools, four of the top 10 middle schools and the number one high school in the state are all public charter schools.
Like the governor, we believe that it makes sense to support and grow these gap-closing schools for Connecticut’s students. The best way we can support this effort is to fund them equitably with both state and local dollars. This common sense change won’t increase taxes or weaken traditional school districts. The financial impact of sending $1,000 per child to the schools those students attend is minor in comparison to the economic and societal benefits our cities and state stand to gain from quality education.
When we, as mayors, work to attract employers to our region, we are often asked if we have a well-educated workforce. Graduation rates, college-going percentages and other key factors can often determine whether our area is chosen as the site for new business.
With this in mind, we should invest in students in the schools where they learn. We should support schools that have proven they can close Connecticut’s vexing achievement gap so that we can make Connecticut a magnet for employers. We should provide public charter schools with this common-sense funding and ask our cities and towns to take responsibility for all students.