Stunning Charter School take down by Robert Cotto Jr.

Show Me The (Charter Management Fee) Money!

Robert Cotto Jr. is one of Connecticut’s leading educate advocates, an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education and part of the Educational Studies program at Trinity College.

In his recent CT Newsjunkie commentary piece entitled, Show Me The (Charter Management Fee) Money! Cotto lays bare the truth about the charter school industry is taking Connecticut’s taxpayers for a ride while diverting scarce public funds from Connecticut’s real public education system.

Robert Cotto writes;

When traditional schools pay their bills to educate kids, they usually don’t have much money, if any, remaining. When charter schools pay their bills, they often have money left over to spend. How much? It depends on the school. For a number of charter schools, roughly 10 percent of all of public dollars meant for educating children in these schools go to pay fees for private companies called “charter management organizations.” That’s a problem.

Connecticut law states that a charter management organization (CMO), “means any entity that a charter school contracts with for educational design, implementation or whole school management services.” These CMOs claim that they are private corporations, not public agencies. Organizations that claim to be CMOs in Connecticut include Achievement First; Capital Preparatory Schools; DOMUS, and Jumoke/FUSE, which is now defunct. It’s often hard to tell the difference between the CMO and the charter schools they manage.


Roughly 10 percent of a charter school’s budget can go toward management fees. For example, the New Haven-based CMO called Achievement First charged Achievement First-Hartford Charter School a $1.14 million management fee in 2013-14. The state provided Achievement First-Hartford charter schools more than $11 million to operate. So about 10 percent of that state funding went to Achievement First the CMO, not the charter school in Hartford, which ended the year with a surplus.

For every $100 dollars the public spends on this charter school, the CMO called Achievement First gets $10 off the top.

Multiply this fee by the four Achievement First charter schools in Connecticut, and Achievement First Inc., the CMO, walks away with about $4.45 million in fees.


Instead of operating schools as public responsibilities, CMOs operate charter schools as moneymaking arrangements, almost like fast-food franchises. Companies like Subway Inc. charge local franchises a fee for services ranging from start-up, food supplies, to signage. This is how Subway makes a profit.

The CMOs could be spending this money on millions of dollars in No. 2 pencils, helping to buy foot-long Subway sandwiches at lobbying events, or paying for student field trips to rally for more charter school money. It’s just unclear.

To fully appreciate how Connecticut’s taxpayers are being ripped off by charter school companies, read Robert Cotto’s entire article at:

  • Bill Morrison

    Robert is very eloquent in this article and highlights one example of a larger problem with spending at the district level. For example, TFA requires that each school district give them a fee beyond the headhunting fees they charge when school districts hire their trainees. Here in Hartford, our district is currently contracted to pay TFA a fee of $680,000 over three years for the privilege of simply doing business with them. We also have paid Pearson Publishing millions of dollars for their online teacher evaluation system, their online grade book software (Power School and Power Teacher), programs that could easily have been designed in-house using Excel spreadsheets. Yet, the district is making huge spending cuts in Special Education programs in spite of 33% of our students being labelled as Special Needs students. We have also cut Security Officers in spite of rising threats against teachers and school employees. Our priorities are wrong.

    • CTedFromTheTrenches

      My very first thought when online grading first came down the pipe, was ‘we’re paying tens of thousands of dollars for a company to provide us with spreadsheets….’

      Third party vultures and self designated ‘experts’ are DESTROYING education. Shame on Connecticut for buying into their racquet.

      Now on top of it all, we’re looking at having outsiders with 092s do the bulk of teacher observations in my district. At a time where we scrape and claw for every penny, we’re going to pay top earners to do the job that our own administrators should be able to do. Very soon, there will be zero local control of education.

      • Palema

        I think boards of education are not on board with it, and will oppose the charter franchise more and more as their results become clearer.

  • jrp1900

    Robert Cotto lays it out quite nicely what school privatization really means: individual schools become “franchises” contractually bound to a profit-making CMO. In this sense, privatization really is corporatization because the CMO lends its name and management expertise to a particular charter school for a sizeable fee. This is no different from the Ford motor car company contracting with an individual car dealer. In fact, in some ways it’s worse. Ford might offer the local dealer some special services that are genuinely beneficial, but, as Robert Cotto points out, it’s not at all clear that charter schools need CMO’s, as their contribution to the educational mission is difficult to gauge. For example, Michael Sharpe of FUSE was paid handsomely for his work with Jumoke Academy. But what did Mr. Sharpe bring to the (academic) table in terms of special expertise, as he is not even an educator? It seems obvious that CMO’s and their supporters fiercely lobby the state for more charter schools as a way to drum up business for themselves. If these people are so good at what they do, why don’t they just set up private schools and live or die by their wares in the “educational marketplace”?

    One thing Mr. Cotto forgot to mention: the SDE (under Stefan Pryor) went out of its way to provide business for CMO’s. This was done via the Office of Turnaround , which deliberately encouraged turnaround school committees to look to CMO’s as “lead partners” in a school reform model. It’s a seamless loop: you give politicians campaign money to advance your interests; then when they reach office you spend more money to lobby them; they vote in the policies that secure your interests, giving you more money; and then once again you give them money for re-election.

    This is the American way when it comes to selling cars or widgets. it’s terrible that this system of legalized bribery is now the driving force of the American education system.