Charter schools in CT, intended as laboratories of innovation, have become a parallel school system allowed to play by a different set of rules than those that govern traditional neighborhood public schools — and that needs to change. That was the message of CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg testifying before the state legislature’s Education Committee earlier this week.
Referring to the 1996 bill that first allowed charter schools to be established in Connecticut, Waxenberg said, “A good bill was highjacked by charter school management companies. They came in and saw an opportunity to educate the best and forget about the rest, which was not the intent of the bill.”
Waxenberg continued, “If legislators knew then what they know now, I’m not sure the charter school bill would have passed. We need to address areas of transparency and oversight, as well as the fiscal implications charter schools are having on a community.”
Testifying on Senate Bill 943, An Act Concerning Charter School Modernization and Reform, Waxenberg supported the bill provided certain key provisions are added. Read his prepared testimony here or watch his live testimony before the committee here, starting at 6:40.
Waxenberg said that CEA supports schools of choice, represents teachers at three Connecticut charter schools, and was the driving force behind the creation of Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich. “When we offer choice, we have to offer it in ways that are consistent and transparent,” he said. “We need to talk about how we can create choices and opportunities for all children. We know there is a population of students underserved by charter schools.”
Representative Edwin Vargas, a former Hartford public school teacher, also testified before the Education Committee, saying that, although some charter school representatives claim they’re closing the achievement gap, “I haven’t seen any evidence of that. They say they’re taking their fair share of English limited kids — I don’t see any evidence of that. The only independent information I’ve seen isn’t very flattering.” He added, “Let’s slow down before we go hook line and sinker.”
Waxenberg said that the standards included in a recent report on accountability for charter schools by the Annenberg Institute offer important guidance for state legislators. He added that Connecticut citizens have a right to expect charter school and charter school management company laws to, among other things:
- Protect traditional neighborhood schools from losing funding and other resources, resulting in greater inequities in districts where charter schools operate.
- Require local school boards to hold a vote determining whether to permit a state charter school be allowed to operate in the district.
- Include anti-fraud, conflict of interest, and anti-nepotism protections.
- Ensure charters employee highly-qualified teachers who hold state teacher certification.
- Require strong, transparent, independent audits for better oversight of public dollars.
- Extend Freedom of Information laws to require open proceedings and public disclosure of financial practices to charter school management companies that operate schools in the state.
- Require charters to serve high-needs students at the same levels as traditional neighborhood public schools and address excessive charter school student expulsions.