The Truth About Charter Schools

Following a national trend, Connecticut launched charter schools in the state in 1996. Who are they really serving, and how well? 

The Connecticut Department of Education thought charter schools “could serve as a catalyst for innovation in the state’s public schools….(and) reduce the racial and economic isolation of Connecticut’s public school students.” Unfortunately, charter schools have failed to share their innovations with publics schools. What’s more charter schools have actually increased racial and ethnic isolation in Connecticut’s student communities.

Racial Isolationism at Charter Schools

Public schools 91.4% minority; Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy 98.7% minority.

Public schools 92.6% minority; Achievement First’s Hartford Academy 99.5% minority.

New Haven
Public schools 86.9% minority; Achievement First’s Amistad Academy 98.1% minority, Achievement First’s Elm City Prep 98.9% minority.

Yet, there are charter schools that are proving that you can reduce racial isolation.  The Common Ground School in New Haven has created a more racially diverse learning environment.  The number of minorities in that school is 81.9% minority compared to the City’s 86.9% minority student body.

Why is there so much racial isolationism in charter schools? Charter schools are pulling “the best of the best” minority students from their public school systems, and concentrating that population into charter schools. But in order to attend, you have to know to apply. In many Latino households in particular, parents miss the cue to send in an application if they are non-English speakers and charter school paperwork is sent home only in English. They don’t know of the opportunity to complete the paperwork on behalf of their children, so their students become more isolated in the public system. With so many students in CT’s urban school systems coming from non-English speaking homes, the charter school environment has wound up practically eliminating those students from their ranks. How many students are we talking about? Here’s how many Connecticut students go home to non-English speaking residences: Bridgeport – 40%; Hartford – 44.7%; New Haven – 28.6%. Latinos are being left out of the charter system, while other minority students become more isolated in the charter system!

Who is behind funding Charter Schools?

Achievement First is a charter school management company now running 20 schools across Connecticut and New York. Achievement First has set up an advocacy group, ConnCAN, to lobby for “education reform.” And who’s behind ConnCAN? Jonathan Sackler (a director at Purdue Pharma), Alex Troy (Founder and Managing Member of Troy Capital in Stamford) and Brian Olson (Co-founder of Viking Global Investors) formed the group in 2004. According to research by blogger Jonathan Pelto, board members and senior staff of ConnCAN are active campaign contributors who have donated upwards of $689,000 to political candidates and PACs in the last five years, as well as an estimated $34,000 to candidates and PACs in Connecticut.

Take a look at who’s behind the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, another group lobbying for more private charter schools. They’re top executives from businesses including:

  • New Alliance Bank
  • The Hartford Insurance Company
  • UBS Private Wealth Office
  • Yale New Haven Hospital System
  • Webster Bank
  • Nestle Waters North America
  • First Niagara Financial Group,
  • the Travelers Companies, Inc.
  • United Illuminating Holdings Corporation
  • GE Asset Management

“The corporate takeover of public education is underway,” warns a recent Forbes article on charter schools, by Erik Kain  Attesting to this is Dr. Gary Miron of Western Michigan University. He’s been testifying to the Michigan State House and the US House of Representatives on the issue of charter schools. He fears they have “provided an easy route for privatization; many states allow private schools to convert to public charter schools, and increasing the use of private education management organizations is increasingly being seen as the mode for expanding charter schools.” Indeed, four out of five Michigan charter schools are run by for-profits. The author worries, “This should be deeply, deeply troubling for anyone thinking about their child’s future education, or the future of this country.”

Why money shouldn’t follow the child.

On average, each student leaving their public school for a charter school would take an average of $14,122 in funds with them. That’s the amount that towns and regional districts across the state spent on average per pupil in 2010-2011. The average teacher’s starting salary in Connecticut is $39,259. So, let’s say three students leave a single school for various charter schools, taking about $42,000 in funds away from the public school’s budget. That’s a new teacher’s salary, gone.

If average class size was 20 students, and now there are only 17 in the class, the school may start considering letting one teacher go and eliminating one class. That means splitting the remaining 17 students across other classes. Increasing class size and raising the student/teacher ratio has been shown to negatively impact test scores. If test scores start to drop, there will be increasing dissatisfaction in the district — potentially causing more students to opt out of the public system in favor of charter schools. And that’s how a downward spiral could begin to signal the end of a school.

Think it can’t happen here? Better think again. In Chester Upland, Pennsylvania, the local charter school has drained more than its proportionate share of financial resources, compounded by the State of Pennsylvania prioritizing the charter’s needs over the district’s needs.  The charter school had drained so much money from the public school that the district couldn’t afford to pay its teachers. The teachers’ union voted to continue working without pay to keep the schools open. The charter school claims to be a public school but is run by a private management company which gets $5,000 per student in fees from the district. Thomas Persing, acting deputy superintendent for the Chester Upland district, was quoted in a February, 2012 New York Times article as saying, “Poor schools in this state are underfunded. Poor kids aren’t going to get the same shot as wealthy kids. That’s the society we are in now.” Is that the society we’re living in in Connecticut?

Disparities in Education Funding

Under the recent education reform legislation passed in 2012, Achievement First will receive an increase in state funding of $2,600 per student while the average student in 30 poorer districts will see an increase of an average of $150 per student.

School District Number of Students* Increase in Funds* Increase per student*
Achievement First – The Charter School Company 2,440 (approx) $6.2 million plus $2,600
Waterbury 17,656 $4.4 million $249
Hartford 20,774 $3.7 million $178
Bridgeport 21,054 $3.3 million $156
New Britain 10,854 $2.7 million $245
New Haven 17,633 $2.3 million $130
Meriden 9,187 $1.8 million $193
East Hartford 8,027 $1.7 million $214
Danbury 10,505 $1.7 million $176
Bristol 8,762 $1.3 million $159
West Haven 7,390 $1.4 million $187
Manchester 7,502 $1.2 million $160
Middletown 5,384 $798,000 $148
Windham 3,345 $764,000 $228
Norwich 11,165 $730,000 $65
Vernon 3,735 $670,000 $180
Naugatuck 4,855 $635,000 $131
New London 5,384 $620,000 $115
Stamford 15,127 $600,000 $40
Hamden 6,945 $583,000 $84

Other Charter School Stories:

Lack of oversight an issue for model charter school system

How Charter Schools Fleece Taxpayers

What’s a Little Edu-Fraud Between Friends?

Charter School Corruption

Charter School Proponents To Announce Major Focus On Shutting Down Failing Schools