What’s the deal with charter schools?

By March 18, 2015Blog

There are a number of myths that persist about charter schools in Connecticut. No, they are not private schools, and no, they do not restrict enrollment in any way. In fact, Charter schools are non-profit, tuition-free, public schools of choice under Connecticut law. They are approved by the State Board of Education. Charters are given more flexibility and freedom to innovate to meet students needs in exchange for higher accountability. They are subject to renewal every five years, based on how well they are meeting students’ needs.

So they’re public schools, but which students do charters serve?  

Charter schools are primarily located in our cities and their student enrollments reflects the communities in which they are located. More than 85% of children attending Connecticut’s charter schools are African American or Hispanic, and more than 70% of students attending charters schools are low-income. In addition, an average of 9% of charter school students qualify for special education, and approximately 5% of students are classified as English Language Learners, or ELL.

How are charter schools performing?

In all, charter schools are providing high-quality options for Connecticut’s most vulnerable students who have traditionally been underserved by our public schools. At least 75% of charter schools exceed state averages for African American, Hispanic, and English Language Learners (ELL) performance at the elementary/middle school level. Connecticut’s charter schools are also doing a great job at preparing students for college and career. A number of charter high schools report college acceptance rates between 90% to 100%, with similarly high college persistence rates.

How are charters funded?  

Unlike traditional public schools that are funded by a combination of federal, state and local dollars, nearly all charter schools in Connecticut receive funding only from the state and a small amount of federal funding. As a result, charter students receive significantly less funding per pupil that similar traditional public school students – often several thousands of dollars less. Evidence demonstrates an equity gap in funding between district and charter students of greater than 30 percent.  Connecticut’s method of funding charters is far out of line with how other states fund charter schools.

What are the policies put in place to manage charters?

Connecticut’s charter law is among the most outdated and lowest rated in the United States, ranking 35 out of 43 states that have charter laws. Connecticut’s charter authorizing policies are among the countries weakest, ranking 21st out of 21 states that have few authorizers. That’s why we support Senate Bill 943 because it offered some promising steps that would update CT’s charter law.

So how is Connecticut’s tough fiscal environment going to affect charter schools?

This year, state leaders will have to make tough choices to resolve our state’s budget deficit. We should invest our scarce education dollars in targeted solutions that work for kids. That’s why the Governor’s proposed investments make sense. The funding he has proposed to fund two new schools approved by the State Board of Education as well as help ensure that students currently enrolled in charter schools makes sense. Unfortunately, the Governor’s proposed education budget leaves both traditional public and charter schools flat funded on a per pupil basis. No traditional public schools or public charter schools are set to receive an increase in funding per student. Long-term, our state leaders need to fix the unsustainable and unfair way that we fund students across all types of schools.

What’s this news on no new charters in Connecticut?

Right now, the General Assembly’s Education Committee is considering language that would effectively shut the door on opportunity for thousands of students by blocking any new charter growth for the next two years. No new charter schools or growth of existing high-quality schools would be devastating for the nearly 40,000 students who currently attend chronically low performing schools, and the many thousands of families on waiting lists demanding high-quality options. Simply put, charter schools are offering a great, high-quality options for our state’s students to succeed, and are a critical part of our state’s efforts to close our worst in the nation achievement gap. We should continue to foster that success, not shut it down.  We cannot unfairly deny children the opportunity to get a high-quality education.