Public school teachers, parents, and CEA staff turned out in force at a State Board of Education (BOE) hearing this morning to oppose a charter school expansion that would carve into funds meant for Bridgeport Public Schools, which serve the majority of the city’s 21,000 students. In spite of powerful testimony opposing the expansion and diversion of funds, Board members voted 6-2 to grant the request.
Capital Preparatory Harbor Charter School’s latest proposed expansion will cost Bridgeport at least $200,000 for transportation and special education services—money that the city will have to divert from its neighborhood public schools.
“I have seen our district forced to do more and more for our children with less and less,” said teacher Katie Smuckler, reading testimony submitted by Bridgeport Education Association President Gary Peluchette, a Bridgeport educator for the past 32 years. “Plans to expand Capital Prep Charter School amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Reading testimony submitted by eighth grade English language arts teacher Carmella Lorusso, at Tisdale School in Bridgeport, CEA member Brian Deming noted, “We need more funding in order to help us improve the opportunities for our students. We certainly cannot afford to give for-profit charter schools more of our desperately needed funding.”
CEA member Ana Batista, a bilingual teacher at Bridgeport’s Batalla School, along with CEA Research and Policy Development Specialist Orlando Rodriguez and others, shared startling statistics with the BOE, demonstrating that Capitol Prep’s student demographics do not reflect the makeup of the Bridgeport community.
“Based on the makeup of our community, nearly half of the students at Capital Prep should be Hispanic—but only one-fifth are,” Batista noted. “Capital Prep should have 27 Spanish-dominant ELL students to match the population of students in Bridgeport Public Schools. The reality is that Capital Prep has zero ELL students—zero. Based on these numbers, it is clear that Capital Prep doesn’t represent the community and that they are cherry-picking their students. As a Latina and a bilingual Bridgeport public school teacher, I am appalled at what has been allowed to go on at Capital Prep and how they discriminate against Hispanic children. I am asking you to examine Capital Prep’s enrollment practices.”
Connecticut’s public schools enroll nearly 37,000 ELL students, and over half are in Alliance Districts such as Bridgeport. In a troubling pattern, the state’s charter schools enroll only 1.2 percent of the state’s ELL students. Capital Prep Harbor’s record is even worse: As Batista testified, although nearly half of Bridgeport students are Hispanic, and 3,120 of the city’s students are English Language Learners, Capital Prep currently does not have any ELL students.
CEA condemns the diversion of funds from Bridgeport Public Schools to continue supporting charter schools that are not held accountable.
Lorusso’s testimony noted, “Last year we lost our paraprofessionals. Our teachers are struggling every day to meet the needs of our youngest students. We lost our home–school coordinators, who monitored student attendance and made visits to homes when needed. Guidance counselors were cut for elementary schools. This year we are anxiously waiting to know whether or not we are losing our literacy and math coaches. My point is that Bridgeport Public Schools cannot afford any cuts.”
“To take funding from our budget—which serves a large, diverse student body—and give those funds to a school where the leadership has a questionable ethic is reprehensible,” Peluchette said.
Capital Prep founder Steve Perry, who attended the hearing, has been under investigation for questionable enrollment practices. Several Bridgeport parents in attendance attested to Capital Prep Harbor’s discriminatory practices and lack of accountability.
Wanda Simmons, the parent of a special needs student in Bridgeport, recalled that she was “sold a bunch of lies” by Capital Prep, which she said was not accommodating when her child had challenges and issues. Pointing to Perry, she said, “He does counsel out children with disabilities. There are a lot of us. You don’t hear from parents of students it didn’t work out for.”
Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Arresta Johnson expressed her surprise and disappointment at the BOE’s vote, which was originally scheduled to take place in August and was moved up without her knowledge. “This imposes a severe fiscal burden on Bridgeport public schools, where our limited resources are already stretched,” she said.