Students, parents, lawmakers and education experts spent over 12 hours discussing the state Senate’s proposed moratorium on state charter schools last Thursday during the state’s Education Committee meeting.
A rally took place the day before at Booker T. Washington Academy, opposing the proposed Connecticut Senate Bill 1096. The bill proposes a two-year moratorium on public charter school approvals beginning July 1, 2015, during which the commissioner of education will review existing charter schools and make a plan for future charter schools, which will be due on Feb. 1, 2017. A similar moratorium occurred five years ago for all state magnet schools other than those in the Hartford area, but the review still has not been released.
“It’s not really clear what they hope to gain by this two-year moratorium,” said Lizanne Cox, the director of Common Ground, a local environmentally oriented charter school. She added that while her school will not be impacted as much as charter schools that have not yet been created, Bill 1096 does have the potential to impact existing charter-review processes. If the bill were to pass, charter schools currently in operation will need to submit annual audit reports, fiscal reports and background checks.
According to Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, the bill was proposed in response to the mismanagement of funds and allegedly falsified certifications at one Hartford charter school that is currently under investigation. He added that this investigation has sparked a larger debate over the expansion of charter schools in Connecticut.
“If the idea behind a moratorium is to do a better job of making sure that the charter schools already in place are effective, then I see the merit in that general approach,” said Elizabeth Carroll, director of the Education Studies program at Yale. “I think that there are legitimate concerns that public school districts [and] teachers have about the ways in which charter schools undermine the ability of traditional public schools to be most effective.”
Villar said some criticisms are that charter schools draw highest performing students away from the public school systems and also get more funding than other public schools.
Still, Villar said those concerns are tied to the underfunding of Connecticut overall, which applies to schools of all types.
Villar also noted that a further criticism of charter schools is that they do not require all teachers to be certified. He attributed this to charter schools’ goal of promoting innovation beyond the constraints of normal public high schools.
He said it is necessary for all schools, including charters, to be held to high standards of transparency and fiscal responsibility. But, he said he does not believe that a moratorium, which would affect students currently on waiting lists for charter schools, is the solution to that problem.
“A moratorium would punish children for the actions of adults; that doesn’t make sense, we have successful charter schools,” Villar said.
At the meeting, one example of a successful charter school noted in the testimonies was Achievement First, a network of public charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Dacia Toll, the CEO of Achievement First, pointed to the fact that at Amistad High School in New Haven, which is ranked first in the state for African-American achievement and fourth in the state overall, 83 percent of its students qualify for reduced cost or free lunch.
“Connecticut still has the largest achievement gap in the country in many grades and subjects,” Toll said in her testimony. “Eighty-six percent of Connecticut charter schools outperform their host district averages on the CMT, and 83 percent outperform their host district averages on the CAPT.”
Amistad High School was founded in 2006.
Correction: March 25
A previous version of this article neglected to mention that Achievement First has a charter school in Rhode Island, in addition to its schools in New York and Connecticut. It also misstated the name of the standardized test CAPT as CAT.