Beware the new Connecticut legislative plan to channel even more public funds to charters

In a new piece published in the Stamford Advocate, education columnist and advocate Wendy Lecker reveals a stunning new proposal that would force taxpayers to give Connecticut’s charter schools even more scarce public funds.  Governor Dannel Malloy already gives Connecticut’s charter school more than $110 million a year and this year, while proposing the deepest cuts in state history to public schools, Malloy unveiled a plan to increase that amount by about 10 percent.  However, a group of Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly want to divert even more public funds to these privately owned, but publicly funded entities.

As Wendy Lecker explains;

Using the Betsy DeVos playbook, Norwalk Sen. Bob Duff and East Hartford Representatives Jason Rojas and Jeffrey Currey are pushing major changes to Connecticut’s school funding system, concocted by the charter front group, the Connecticut School Finance Project; in order to funnel money directly from school districts to privately run charter schools.

Currently, public school districts pay for the cost of education from: a state allocation, ostensibly calculated under Connecticut’s school funding formula, the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula; local funding, i.e. the local share; and some federal funds.

Charter schools are considered independent school districts, authorized and overseen by the state. Local communities have no say over the operation of charters within their borders. Charters are exempt from many requirements, such as having all certified teachers and serving all grade levels. Thus, it is logical that districts should not pay local dollars to charters. Charters are funded through a separate state funding stream, and receive federal and private funds.

However, the Connecticut School Finance Project proposal will now have local districts paying for these privately run charters. For every child attending a charter school, a local district will lose a portion of its ECS allocation equal to about 25 percent of its local per-pupil share. Charter schools will receive an ECS allocation that will cover the rest of its funding. So charters will get more state funding than the local school district, plus local districts will now pay them an additional penalty for each charter school student. As charters expand, districts will lose more.

The DeVos team used this strategy in Michigan. They instituted a system where money intended for public schools flowed to charters. They then fought for explosive charter growth. This toxic combination decimated budgets and schools of Michigan’s poorest cities, such as Detroit.

Worse still, this proposal fails to fund Connecticut schools adequately. A foundation aid formula, like ECS, is only adequate if its components are: i.e., the foundation amount, the amount necessary to educate one child with no special needs; and the weights that adjust the foundation amount for different needs, like students living in poverty, English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

This proposal’s foundation amount is not based on any assessment of the cost of education in Connecticut. Instead the proposed foundation amount is supposedly derived from average spending in other states — a ludicrous way to estimate the cost of education here. The proposal does not even consider spending on operating expenses, i.e. the expenses needed to run a district. It only considers spending on a narrow selection of expenses they call “core instructional costs.” It is no wonder the foundation amount this group proposes is lower than Connecticut’s foundation amount back in 2007-08.

The proposed student need weights are also not based on the actual additional cost of serving needy students. The 30 percent poverty weight is less than half of what experts say is needed to educate poor students. The proposal omits additional weighting for students living in severe poverty, who are costlier to serve. Why? Because charters tend to serve students who are less poor than their host public school districts. If the formula does not differentiate, then charters are rewarded for continuing to ignore the most disadvantaged.

The proposed ELL weight is a ridiculous 10 percent — only one-tenth of what it necessary to fund education for these students. It will particularly harm districts with large and growing populations of ELL kids. However, charters routinely under-serve ELL students, so a low weight means they will not get penalized financially for continuing this practice.

This proposal removes special education funds from the ECS allocation. For a group claiming its aim is a “unified” formula for all students, why omit students with disabilities? Special education is the thorniest cost to deal with when privatizing schools. Removing it clears the way for charter expansion.

And though some districts stand to gain this year (especially Duff’s, and Rojas’ and Currey’s), the proposal reduces the state share of funding for our poorest districts.

Even proponents admit this proposal woefully underfunds Connecticut schools. The group acknowledges that the ECS formula is currently underfunded by more than $600 million. Realistic estimates conclude that the total shortfall is over $1.5 billion.

Yet this proposal plans to increase school funding by only $320 million — over six years! And there is no mechanism to increase state funding as costs rise.

Raiding public school funds to favor privately run charters, that serve less than 2 percent of Connecticut students, is not equity. It will leave our neediest students with less.

You can read and comment on the full article at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-new-plan-to-channel-local-funds-11058087.php