OP-ED | Keeping an Eye on Regionalization, Charter Schools, and Other Education Issues
by Barth Keck | Jan 30, 2019 5:00am
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Posted to: Analysis, Campaign Finance, Education, Election 2016, Election 2017, Election 2018, Opinion, State Capitol, Danbury, Hartford, New Haven, Norwalk
Another year, another wave of proposed laws. As a teacher, I’m always interested in how new laws might affect schools. Two specific proposals caught my eye.
The first, from Rep. Christine Palm of Chester, would require public schools to include instruction on climate change.
It’s a common-sense idea, one reaffirming Connecticut’s status as a forward-looking state that still embraces modern concepts like, oh, science. Palm’s legislation, in fact, might not be necessary, according to the Hartford Courant, precisely because Connecticut’s Next Generation Science Standards already include climate change in the middle-school science curriculum.
That said, another member of the house, Rep. John E. Piscopo, has proposed a bill that seeks to do the opposite: eliminate climate change materials from the Next Generation Science Standards. So we’ll see if either of them even make it out of committee.
Another proposed law is Senate Bill 454, which calls for “school districts in towns with fewer than 40,000 residents to consolidate with a neighboring district.”
The push for regionalization is a common refrain in Hartford, one I previously explored vis-à-vis schools. Suffice it to say, regionalization is a hard sell in the land of steady habits and local governance. An Education Committee meeting has already attracted a standing-room-only crowd of stakeholders concerned about the bill. One complaint: the bill focuses more on finances than education quality.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle of Wilton said that “most of it is devoted to discussing collective bargaining. I don’t see anything in the bill that discusses quality of education for students, access to good education for students, anything like that.”
In addition to newly proposed laws, other educational concerns have appeared on my radar.
Education Law Center attorney Wendy Lecker highlighted a recent report by Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group titled “Who Is Buying Our Education System? Charter School Super PACs in Connecticut.”
“The report found that since 2016, six Super PACs have spent more than half a million dollars in Connecticut elections,” wrote Lecker. “These Super PACs are founded and/or dominated by charter lobbyists and employees of charter organizations, such as the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the now-defunct Families for Excellent Schools, ConnCAN, Achievement First charter chain, and DFER.”
Added Lecker, “The majority of the money donated came from outside Connecticut and from a limited number of large donors, the largest being Walmart’s Alice Walton.”
It’s an important fact to keep in mind, particularly in light of the recently settled Los Angeles teachers’ strike.
“One of the less-noticed provisions of the agreement to end the strike was that the school board would call for a statewide re-examination of the role and effect of charters, and that it would consider asking the state for a moratorium on any new ones,” according to the LA Times. In sum, “charter schools haven’t always lived up to their promise. Some manipulated the system to bring in students more likely to succeed. It took an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union to discover that dozens of charter schools were requiring parents to volunteer significant time to the school, a deterrent to low-income families that couldn’t spare that kind of time.”
The track record of charter schools in Connecticut is dubious as well. Principal Morgan Barth of Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven resigned earlier this month after the New Haven Independent posted a story and video of him shoving a student.
Amistad’s sister school, Achievement First Hartford, was put on probation in 2016 due to a high rate of student suspensions and noncompliance with teacher certification requirements.
Last summer, Path Academy of Willimantic decided to close before the state could revoke its charter because the school “had been operating two unauthorized satellite locations, and it had enrolled many students who weren’t regularly attending,” according to WNPR. “The state estimated that it may have overpaid Path Academy by over $1.5 million over a two-year period.”
And therein lies the problem: How, exactly, are private charter schools in Connecticut spending the state’s public dollars? Currently, the state funds 23 charter schools. Two more charters in Danbury and Norwalk are scheduled to come on board after their approval in October.
Considering the state pays charter schools $11,000 per student for an outlay of more than $108 million in 2017-18, the state should continue to monitor these private schools closely. Indeed, when the challenges of public education in Connecticut are already daunting and the dollars to fight them are scarce, legislators should be wary of out-of-state, charter-school PACs visiting with bags of money. The question remains, do charter schools answer more to students and students’ parents, or to their corporate parents?
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