The following op-ed by CEA President Sheila Cohen appeared in the print edition of the Hartford Courant, July 30, 2017.
Every parent and student in Connecticut should be outraged over the continued lack of oversight and special benefits provided to charter schools in Connecticut — to the detriment of more than 500,000 students in the state’s public school system. Many charter schools management corporations are profiting off our children while draining critical traditional public school funds and threatening to diminish the quality of public education.
Recent newspaper reports uncovered improper admissions procedures at Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, founded by Steve Perry, who also runs Capital Preparatory Harbor Charter School in Bridgeport. A state audit found that Capital Prep in Hartford violated state admission procedures and cherry-picked students. But the state has not conducted an audit of Perry’s Capital Preparatory Harbor Charter School in Bridgeport, nor has it done anything to require transparency to protect the state’s vital education dollars.
According to the Connecticut State Department of Education, Capital Prep in Bridgeport has the lowest per-pupil regular expenditure among the state’s 24 charter districts. Although it receives $11,000 per pupil from the state, the school spent only $9,430 per pupil in the 2015-2016 school year — less than all other charter schools in the state. Capital Prep ended that same year with a surplus of more than $400,000. Those surplus funds should have benefited students or been returned to the state.
The State Board of Education recently voted to allow the expansion of Capital Prep in Bridgeport — despite objections from parents, teachers, administrators, the superintendent and the entire Bridgeport Board of Education. This is a prime example of the state’s misguided efforts to reward charter school operators at the expense of traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of the state’s students.
Rather than examine the questions brought forward at the meeting, the State Board of Education members rewarded Perry and his charter school by expanding Capital Prep in Bridgeport. The expansion will cost the state an additional $1.7 million at a time when it faces a massive budget deficit and may cut funding for traditional public schools. The expansion also imposes a severe fiscal burden on Bridgeport’s already strained education budget, taking an additional $200,000 away from Bridgeport Public Schools. The State Board of Education dismissed the Bridgeport Board of Education’s unanimous request to reject the expansion. State board members also dismissed teachers and parents who spoke out against what they said were unethical practices taking place at the charter school.
Statistics received from the State Department of Education show that Capital Prep discriminates in its admission policies. Capital Prep does not reflect the cultural diversity of Bridgeport’s K-12 population and is not meeting the needs of Bridgeport’s growing Hispanic and English language learners in the student population.
Nearly half (47 percent) of Bridgeport’s students are Hispanic, and 15 percent are English language learners. Only 20 percent of the students at Capital Prep in Bridgeport are Hispanic, however, and the school does not have a single student who is an English language learner.
The state cannot continue to allow charter expansion without true oversight, full transparency, and thorough accountability — especially when the result creates a greater financial crisis and negatively impacts the majority of students in traditional public schools, which are already underfunded by more than $700 million per year.
Connecticut should not perpetuate costly parallel school systems, one fully funded for a small number of students, and one detrimentally underfunded for the vast majority of the state’s students. The state cannot afford to give charter schools more of the funds desperately needed for traditional public schools.
Traditional public schools are the foundation on which our nation has grown and prospered. To strip funding from them for the benefit of unaccountable charters such as Capital Prep hurts our students, our cities, our state and our nation.