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Lawmakers' Stinting Charter Schools Is A Loss For Children

Education Committee dials back funding for these gap-closing, popular schools

Hartford Courant Editorial

March 28, 2012

Public charter schools are a key to closing the achievement gap between urban and suburban schools, so it's no wonder that Gov.Dannel P. Malloyhad proposed increasing funding for charters in his education reform bill this year.

Unfortunately, the legislature's education committee, apparently at the beck and call of teacher unions, has voted to dial back the increases.

The vote was yet another attempt by majority Democrats to rally around the status quo at the expense of students who deserve better.

The bill that emerged from the committee calls for cutting back significantly on the governor's proposed increases for charter school funding. It would also get rid of the requirement that school districts pay $1,000 for each child attending a charter school, making such payment voluntary.

Instead, the bill further increases the amount of money spent to support preschools. No question that improving preschool education is important. But Mr. Malloy had already proposed an additional $4 million for 500 more slots for preschoolers this September. It's unlikely that many more seats than that can be made available by the fall. There just isn't enough capacity.

So the Education Committee didn't need to raid funding for charter schools.

Expanding Charters' Work

Charter schools are remarkably effective at closing the gap in test scores between students of color and white students. The No. 1 high school in the state in African American academic performance is a public charter school. So are three of the top 10 elementary schools and four of the top 10 middle schools. More students are on waiting lists for charters (7,000) than attend them (6,000).

And charter schools educate students cost-efficiently. On average, they receive 75 percent of the state funding that local school districts receive.

Some charters, however, are not subject to collective bargaining agreements and are therefore anathema to the powerful unions.

Although many praise charter schools as innovative education models, one beef against them is that they can skim the best and brightest from struggling school districts, worsening the plight of traditional urban public schools. Not all charter schools fit that pattern, however. Two in Stamford, where Mr. Malloy was mayor, go out of their way to seek students who struggle with learning English, have intellectual impairments or have other special needs.

Taking that model statewide, as Mr. Malloy has proposed, would represent true educational reform and provide a significant boost to high-need districts. That proposal appears to have survived the education committee intact.

But otherwise, the committee's lopsided 28-5 vote to approve a greatly watered-down package that represents no threat to organized labor shows just how little reform is on its members' agenda.

How Long?

Connecticut's reluctance to fully embrace its successful charter schools is a big factor in the state's three-time losing record in competing for federal Race to the Top funding. Gutting Mr. Malloy's bold vision for improvement won't win us federal dollars in future challenges.

Malloy administration officials have taken pains to say that the reform bill is "a work in progress," and that it might be changed. As it makes its way through various committees appropriations, labor and public employees, planning and development let's hope that some lawmakers, for a change, put children's interests ahead of those of unions.

Fortunately for the state's children, the governor gets it. He lectured lawmakers on Wednesday that "we can't wait. If we wait, we are consigning too many of our children to another year in which they will continue to fall behind their peers."

He noted that neighboring states took on reforms nearly a decade ago and improved their graduation rates.

How long does the legislature expect to thwart progress by studying reform to death, and gutting every truly innovative proposal made by the governor?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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