Charter schools denied new seats
HARTFORD — One Bridgeport and two New Haven charter schools have been denied an additional $627,000 in state money for 57 seats they filled without authorization.
The State Board of Education voted 7-1 to not award the extra seats after hearing nearly two hours of public testimony, much of it from traditional public school teachers opposed to the request.
Only Board Chairman Allan Taylor voted to approve the seats.
“If we don’t spend that money for charter school seats we are not going to be able to give them to the Hartford school district,” Taylor said. He saw denial as going back on a commitment.
Other board members called the situation a deliberate action by charter schools to game the system.
Charter seat request
Capitol Prep Harbor
Common Ground High
Elm City College Prep
“They all knew the number of seats that had been approved,” Estela Lopez, a state board member said, referring to the charter schools. “For whatever reason, they went over the number of seats when funding had not been allocated.”
Donald Harris, another board member said, two seats or 35 seats, the limit was overstepped.
“I am not in favor of doing any additions,” Harris said. “I don’t think it is right.”
The state Board of Education last summer divvied up 9,913 charter school seats when it was still uncertain whether the unsettled state budget would support them. The budget approved by the General Assembly in October supported them plus an additional $613,000.
Even with legislative funding, charter school seat allocations are determined by the state school board. The charter schools filled 57 extra seats without any assurance they would be approved and then came to the state school board Wednesday for the money.
Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport wanted 35 seats, Common Ground High School in New Haven sought two seats and Elm City charter school that is part of Achievement First asked 20 seats. Each school gets $11,000 per student, and so the three were requesting a total of $625,000.
Before the vote, Morgan Barth, who is an Achievement First principal, said the students would be kept at his schools with or without the additional funding. Instead, he said the school would face painful budget cuts.
Steve Perry, founder of Capital Preparatory Harbor School of Bridgeport, felt so confident his school would get the additional funding before the vote he would not say what would happen if they didn’t.
Afterward, Perry left saying he would continue to educate children too.
Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell said the request grew out of a highly unusual budget session and was guided by a letter sent to the department by State Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, in January clarifying that the extra money approved in the budget was intended to fund additional seats.
During the public participation portion of the meeting, Stratford Schools Superintendent Janet Robinson, whose district faced more than $2 million in cuts, asked how the state can award more seats to charter schools while mercilessly cutting districts like hers where school days have been cut to avoid layoffs.
“Why are our scarce tax dollars being spent on charter schools?” Robinson asked. “We are decimating our public schools and sending money to charters.”
Kristen Record, a Stratford school teacher and former Connecticut Teacher of the Year, told the panel during the public speaking portion that sending more money to charter schools is absolutely not fair.
“The children of my public school district have become victims of a system that is neither fair nor equitable,” Record said.
Michael Brosnan, a Bridgeport teacher, told the board that his district accepted 180 students from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria with no additional funding. He called the idea of awarding a “parallel system of schools” for unapproved expansion reckless.
Don Williams, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said the charter school industry was treating the state board as a virtual ATM.
Perry, whose Bridgeport-based charter school has 445 students in K-12, said the school is only asking for what it was promised in its charter agreement. He called the 404 seats the school was funded a “clerical error” and said his school is not sitting on a surplus but actually running in a deficit, always “borrowing Peter to pay Paul.”
Barth, from Achievement First — which Elm City feeds into — argued that charter schools are not taking money away from traditional public schools. He blamed over-enrollment on low student turnover and commitments made to students to guarantee them seats through high school.
Dacia Toll, Achievement First president, said the school is not prepared to decide which students will go and which stay.
“We felt we legally and morally had to serve students who have been with us for many years and are simply moving up to the next grade,” Toll said. “Some of the comments today were simply misinformed about what is actually going on here.”
Miquell Shaw, a senior at Amistad, also pleaded to the state board, telling members how the school changed his life, keeping him out of jail like many of his family members.