Connecticut – Beware the charter school industry’s proposed new school funding scheme

The charter school front groups, ConnCAN and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, with the help of the Connecticut School Finance Project, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) – the latter two groups which are funded through local school budgets and are supposed to be advocating for public schools – have proposed a set of principles for a new school funding formula for Connecticut that will undermine the state’s public school districts and drain local municipal budgets.

The new pro-charter school plan is based on the school funding formula in Rhode Island and it is a classic “Money Follows the Child” system that would mean that, in addition to collecting about $110 million a year from the State of Connecticut, the state’s privately owned and operated Charter Schools would grab an additional $40-$50 million a year in public funds from the local schools in Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, Hamden, Norwich and Manchester.

The operative language in the new charter school sponsored formula reads;

“A combination of state and local funds should be allocated to schools of choice on a per student basis, so that the total per-pupil funding for these students will go to the schools or districts of choice.”

This public money “follows the child” plan is particularly appalling and inappropriate because charter schools are not accountable to elected local board of education.  Local school districts have no say in whether charter schools are created, where they are located, which children they educate or refuse to educate, nor do local boards of education have control over any other charter school policy or practice.

The operative question is why should local taxpayers pay for a school that is utterly unaccountable to the local community?

In addition, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for discriminating against Latino students, students who require additional help learning the English language, children who need special education services and those who display disciplinary problems.

Furthermore, charter schools in Connecticut do not face the same costs as public schools since,  among other things, they refuse to allow educators to unionize and in most cases only half the teachers (or even fewer) have been certified under Connecticut’s strict teacher preparation programs.

The truth is that Connecticut charter schools also DO NOT pay for transporting students to or from their school nor do they pay for any special education costs associated with their students – those costs are already picked up by the local school districts.

Although pro-charter school Governor Malloy will undoubtedly use this plan as his proposed formula when he announces his school funding plan next month, the plan is bad for Connecticut’s students, parents, educators, public schools and taxpayers.

His efforts to privatize public education in Connecticut know no bounds and the charter school industry’s newest proposal is simply a stunning money grab from school districts that are already massively underfunded.

A cost study conducted in 2005 found that Connecticut was underfunding its schools by approximately $2 billion a year, leaving schools without the resources they need to close the achievement gap and help all students succeed.  A new cost study – which is sorely needed and which the school funding advocates (CCJEF) are calling for —one done to reflect current costs, taking into account all our new mandates and standards,  and current student demographics and need – will undoubtedly show a similar if not even larger gap in state funding.

This incredible pro-charter school funding proposal would make the situation even worse for Connecticut’s urban districts.

The plan is being put forward by:
CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE)
CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS)
CT Association of Schools (CAS)
CT Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
CT Council for Education Reform (CCER)

Finally, the reality that CABE and CAPSS are joining the charter school industry in promoting such a disastrous funding plan is a disturbing indictment of their failure to represent the citizens of Connecticut and a gross violation of their mission, purpose and nonprofit status.  Compounding their dereliction of duty is the fact that these two groups are part of the CCJEF coalition yet their scheme harms the very children, parents, public and schools and poorer towns and cities that CCJEF has been fighting so hard and so long to help.

For more about how charter schools are seeking to undermine Connecticut’s public schools read, Draining dollars from our students by Wendy Lecker

In her column, Wendy Lecker wrote;

Compounding the damage to public school funding, Malloy’s allies intend to “reform” Connecticut’s school funding formula to drain more public dollars from public schools — toward privately run charter schools.

As the Malloy administration recently acknowledged, district public schools are the vehicle the state chose to discharge its constitutional responsibility to educate children. Although the state must ensure adequate funding, in reality the state and municipalities share the financial burden. State education funding never covers the full cost of education. The state provides a portion and the local municipality fills in the rest, with the federal government contributing a small amount. When the state fails to pay its fair share, municipalities must to make up the gap.

Successful school funding reforms start with an analysis of what it costs to educate children. Once the cost is determined, states find they must increase school spending. Those increases have been proven to improve educational and life outcomes, especially for poor children.

To begin serious reform, Connecticut must assess what it costs today to bring an adequate education within the reach of all students.

However, Malloy’s charter allies do not want to discuss the cost of education. Their agenda is simply to get the legislature to include charter schools in any new school funding formula. Why? So local districts would be required to fund charters from local budgets.

State charter schools are considered independent districts. Local districts do not receive state allocations for students attending charter schools nor are they required pay the local contribution for children in charter schools. The host district has no say over the charter schools located within its borders. State law does require local school districts to pay for transportation and special education costs for children attending charter schools. Aside from that, charters are funded by state allocations, federal funds and private donations.

Charters are not funded like district public schools because they differ from public schools. They are statutorily created and can be discontinued anytime. They need not serve all grade levels nor provide the same services as public schools, and do not have to hire certified teachers. They are also exempt from other state mandates and accountability.

The charter lobby’s proposal would require local districts to pay for any costs for charters not covered by the state. Local taxpayers would now pay for charters like they pay for their own schools; without having any voice in charter schools and without charters following the same rules as public schools. As the state decides to expand charters, more local dollars will be drained from public schools toward these independent schools. In Rhode Island, where this system exists, districts lose tens of millions of dollars annually to charters.

Draining more money from impoverished school districts will not improve education for Connecticut’s neediest children. If our leaders are serious about school funding reform, they must start with assessing the true cost of providing every child with an adequate education. Only then can we have an honest discussion about how we can serve the educational needs of all our children.

Education reformers and charter school industry are jacking our legislature.

Yeah, jacking…. As in car-jacking…

One month into the 2016 session of the Connecticut General Assembly and the various front groups that work for the education reform and charter school industries have already spent more than $157,000 lobbying legislators in favor of their pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-SBAC testing and anti-teacher agenda.

Led by a group that calls itself “The Big Six,” at least 25 registered lobbyists are working the State Capitol in favor of a political and policy agenda that includes diverting more scarce public funds away from public schools and to privately owned and operated charter schools.

Their legislative agenda also includes taking away local citizen control of public schools and supporting the Malloy administration’s effort to punish school districts in which more than 5 percent of the parents opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

Not only do these “education reform” groups support the Common Core and the Common Core testing fiasco, they actively oppose the fundamental and inalienable right of parents to opt their children out of the SBAC tests.

These education reformers claim that SBAC testing is good for developing children’s “grit” and will determine if students are “college and career” ready – of course, the SBAC test is good for neither of those things.

In addition to their support for the massive and expensive standardized testing scam, the group supports using the SBAC test results to evaluate teachers, despite the fact that numerous academic studies have revealed that using standardized tests results is not an appropriate measure and should not be part of an effective teacher evaluation program.

“The Big 6” includes the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).

In joint testimony this week, the lobbying alliance opposed a bill removing the discriminatory SBAC results from Malloy’s teacher evaluation program, claiming that they opposed efforts to “weaken” the system.

Weaken the system?

What about creating a system that actually services a mechanism to evaluate how well teachers are doing?

While “The Big 6” includes the state’s major charter school lobbying groups, it also includes three organizations that receive the majority of their funding from taxpayers.

The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) all get their primary funding from membership dues that are paid for by local property taxpayers via local school districts.

You know the political system is truly broken when taxpayer funded lobby groups are lobbying to undermine students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.

Since Governor Malloy introduced his “education reform” initiative in 2012, the charter schools and their education reform allies have spent well in excess of $7 million dollars lobbying for his agenda, which is a record breaking amount.

In addition to “The Big Six,” other organizations that are presently lobbying Connecticut legislators in favor of the charter school and “education reform” agenda include the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, the North East Charter Schools Network , Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and Families for Excellent Schools, the New York-based lobbing and political entity that bused in charter school students and parents from as far away as New York City and Boston last year to rally in support of Malloy’s efforts to hand charter schools even more public funds.

In their most recent state budget plan, Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman proposed giving charter schools more money while, at the same time, proposing the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Malloy and Wyman are calling on the legislature to cut cut about $60 million from Connecticut’s public schools.

This while Connecticut charter schools already collect well over $100 million a year in Connecticut taxpayer funds.

How much will the absurd Common Core SBAC Test cost Connecticut taxpayers?

The following is a “MUST READ” column for Connecticut’s parents and taxpayers.

In fact, it should be mandatory reading for Connecticut’s local school board members, superintendents, principals and all of the state’s local school officials.

So how much will the unfair and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test cost Connecticut taxpayers?

It turns out that no one knows for sure, or if they do, they definitely aren’t telling!

Governor Malloy won’t give a number, nor will his political appointees on the State Board of Education.

State Legislators haven’t been told, nor have local cities and towns.

But starting in just over a month, every public school in Connecticut will be forced to stop teaching and start giving the Common Core Smarter Balanced Consortium SBAC test.

And not only will school districts have to put aside instructional time and give the Common Core SBAC test this year, but they will have to do it next year, and the year after, and the year after that, and every single year until this nonsense stops and the state’s elected officials finally have the courage to stand up and put an end to the Common Core test scam that is designed to intentionally judge the vast majority of Connecticut’s public school children as failures.

While most of Connecticut’s local school boards and officials are remaining quiet about this disaster, in California it is a whole different story.

In California (and in many parts of New York),  local school boards and school leaders have had enough and are pushing back against the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s agenda of turning public schools into little more than testing factories.

In California, local districts have even gone so far as to bring a class-action lawsuit to force the State of California to pay for the unfunded mandate called the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC test.

Today, the nation’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch, writes about the lawsuit in a post entitled, “California: Districts Object to $1 Billion for Common Core Testing.”

According to media reports, the Santa Ana Unified School District of Orange County calculates that shifting from the previous paper tests to the new Common Core SBAC test “will cost the district about $12 million, including 8.1 million for new computers, $3.3 million for additional internet bandwidth and other costs associated with “accessories and training.”

The total cost of implementing the Common Core SBAC Test — after the State of California has already allocated more than $1.25 billion for the Common Core testing system – is estimated to be at least $1 billion annually for the state’s school districts.

Of course, when confronted with the news, in a statement similar to what we’d likely hear from the Malloy administration, “a spokesman for the [California] Department of Finance declined to comment because officials are reviewing the claim.”

Note that the projected $1 billion additional burden on local school districts in California COMES AFTER California State Government allocated  $1.25 billion to districts in one-time funds to help pay for classroom changes needed to implement the Common Core standards and Common Core SBAC Testing program.

The Orange County Register newspaper adds that the state provided another $26.7 million in state funds last year for high-speed internet access at schools with the highest needs and, “The governor’s latest budget proposal for next year adds $100 million for internet needs.”

However, here in Connecticut, relatively small amounts of state money have been allocated to help the state’s local school districts pay for the tremendous costs associated with ramping up and implementing the Common Core SBAC testing scheme.

Rather than spending their time and lobbying funds cheering on Governor Malloy and his corporate education reform industry agenda, perhaps the publicly funded Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the publicly funded Connecticut Association of School Superintendents (CAPSS) should stop taking positions that directly undermine their own members – Connecticut’s local school boards and superintendents – and start talking about legal and legislative action to force the State of Connecticut to fund this unfunded mandate or postpone the testing debacle until proper funding is provided.

While it is true that Connecticut may not want to follow California’s lead on all things, it sure would be helpful if more of Connecticut’s local school districts and local school officials were following their colleagues in California (and other states like New York,) and standing up and fighting on behalf of their districts’ students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.

But NO – you want to know what the local taxpayer money that goes to CABE and CAPSS is being used for?

They are spending their time – and our money – joining the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s campaign to promote Malloy’s ant-public education agenda!

See:

CT’s Big Six to state legislators: “Continue investing in last year’s education reforms”

“A coalition of six of the state’s leading education and business groups – CAPSS, CAS, CABE, CBIA, CCER, CONNCAN – urge legislators not to back down from key pillars of last year’s education reform law

“This prompted the Big Six – a group composed of six education and business organizations – to urge lawmakers to protect progress made last year for Connecticut children by continuing to invest education reforms…”

And

BIG SIX INTRODUCES POLICY FOCUSES FOR NEW YEAR

“With the release of the Big 6’s Statement of Principles and Policy Recommendations, the coalition expects elected officials to keep education improvement efforts a priority during Legislative Session.

The Big 6 coalition represents key stakeholders and perspectives from the state’s leading education and business groups and continues to be united in a shared commitment to pursue systemic improvement in the state’s public schools so that every child gets an excellent public education.

Our partnership includes the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).”

Interestingly none of the priorities pushed by the BIG SIX includes being honest with Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers about the real cost of these “initiatives” or the fact that much of those unnecessary costs will be dumped on the backs of Connecticut’s local property taxpayers.

You can read more about the Big Six in any number of commentary piece written by fellow education advocates, but a good place to start is with Sarah Darer Littman piece that was published in CT Newsjunkie and entitled, “Legislate Based On Research, Not Hyperbole.”

Teacher Barth Keck adds his voice to the debate about the Common Core and related testing

As Connecticut’s public school students begin taking the Common Core Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test this week, more and more serious questions are being raised about the Common Core and its associated testing charade.

As evidenced during the recent public hearing held by the General Assembly’s Education Committee, apologists for the Common Core and Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiatives desperately defend the indefensible policies related to the Common Core, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test and the absurd teacher evaluation system.

At the recent hearing, the most irrational support for Malloy’s education reforms came from Malloy’s own Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

CABE and CAPSS are two examples of groups that are funded in large part by taxpayer funds but rather than spend their resources protecting Connecticut’s public school students, parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers they are kowtowing to an increasingly unpopular governor and his increasingly unpopular so-called “education reforms.”

This weekend’s trifecta of columns about the failures of Malloy’s education reforms include Wendy Lecker’s “Charter school pitch not about helping community,” Sarah Darer Littman’s “Politicians Underestimate Common Core Opposition at Their Peril” and Connecticut teacher Barth Keck’s column entitled, Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?.”  

The commentary piece Barth Keck wrote in this week’s CT NewsJunkie lays out some of the most profound issues.

Keck writes,

“To listen to the leaders of the leaders of Connecticut public schools, the controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards is merely a misunderstanding that will be clarified once the standards are adopted.

Bob Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said “there’s a lot of misinformation about the teacher evaluation system and how it’s going to work together with the Common Core,” according to a CTNewsJunkie report.

“What we’re trying to do is give a little cooling off period so we can implement Common Core,” Rader said during the legislature’s hearing on March 12. “Then I think you’ll see this all dissipate.”

Regarding a survey that found 97 percent of Connecticut teachers “believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that he didn’t know where “the approximately 1,500 teachers surveyed by the Connecticut Education Association came from because that’s not what he’s hearing from the leaders of school districts.”

Note to Mr. Cirasuolo: I know where at least one of them came from.

What we have here is a classic case of “decoupling.” That is, proponents of the Common Core have separated themselves from the pushback simply because it’s an impediment to their agenda.

“Moratorium says to me: You stop,” said Cirasuolo. “All of that just stops. Our members are saying, ‘We can’t do that. What do we do if we stop? Do we go back and get the stuff we used to use four years ago?’ You’re not going to improve a process if you stop it.”

Cirasuolo’s attitude is mirrored at the national level.

“The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress, so broadly represented of beliefs in the educational community,” writes respected author and literacy expert Thomas Newkirk in a must-read essay, “that they cease to be even debatable.”

Problem is, adds Newkirk, these bold attitudes “hide their controversial edges.”

Newkirk outlines multiple reasons why — despite the self-assurance of Common Core supporters — the current resistance should not be so readily dismissed.

For one, many standards are “developmentally inappropriate.”

“[T]he CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm,” writes Newkirk. “What had once been an expectation for fourth graders [has] become the standard for second graders, as in this example:

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they [i.e., second graders] introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points and provide a concluding statement.

“Normally this would be the expectation of an upper-elementary report; now it is the requirement for seven-year-olds.”

Newkirk also has concerns about the connection between standardized testing and the Common Core, a situation that ultimately limits what is taught: “These tests will give operational reality to the standards — in effect they will become the standards; there will be little incentive to teach to skills that are not tested.”

Perhaps most significantly, the full-speed-ahead attitude of the CCSS proponents “drowns out” all other educational discussions.

Explains Newkirk: “The principle of opportunity costs prompts us to ask: ‘What conversations won’t we be having?’ Since the CCSS virtually ignore poetry, will we cease to speak about it? What about character education, service learning? What about fiction writing in the upper high school grades? What about the arts that are not amenable to standardized testing? What about collaborative learning, an obvious twenty-first-century skill? We lose opportunities when we cease to discuss these issues and allow the CCSS to completely set the agenda, when the only map is the one it creates.”

The history of our country is filled with examples of cognitive dissonance created by people who question the so-called “conventional wisdom.” Newkirk cites Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that it is never “untimely” in a democracy to scrutinize policies.

The leaders of the leaders of our public schools would do well to remember this lesson. King’s “Letter,” after all, is included in Common Core Standard 10 as a “Text Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading 6-12.”

You can read Barth Keck’s full column at CT NewsJunkie by clicking here:  Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?

CABE: Why the silence as Pryor undermines the role of local Boards of Education?

Where is the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education?

Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor instructed towns that if they had a local school that they wanted to become part of the new Commissioner’s Network, ”Expression of Interest Forms” needed to be submitted by January 4, 2013.

On its face, the commissioner’s action seemed simple enough.

When the Connecticut General Assembly debated and adopted Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill, it was widely understood that the state’s ability to takeover individual schools or school districts was extremely limited and could only occur after the state took a very specific set of actions.

A key provision of the law, now known as Public Act 12-116, was the creation of a Commissioner’s Network.  As the State Department of Education explains on their website, the Commissioner’s Network is “designed to provide new resources and flexibilities to improve student achievement in the state’s lowest performing schools. The Commissioner’s Network is designed as a partnership between local stakeholders and the state and will serve as a vehicle for innovative initiatives, a platform for sharing effective practices, and a model for other schools and districts throughout the state.”

The spirit and the language of the law make it extremely clear that the Commissioner’s Network is based on the full participation of the local Board of Education and the local teachers through their union.

The language lays out a process for the development and approval of a “turnaround plan,” including provisions for how to deal with collective bargaining issues.

So now Commissioner Pryor is requiring towns to submit a document if they are interested in being part of the program.

But here is the problem.

Pryor’s first step doesn’t require the local superintendent to even communicate with the local Board of Education, let alone get their approval.

But as I’m sure every state legislator would attest too, the notion that the process would proceed without the full participation, or even knowledge, of the local Board of Education is inconceivable.

This is Connecticut and local education policy decisions are made by the local board of education.

If a school becomes part of the Commissioner’s Network, the local board of education loses full control of that program for three years.  In fact, it is the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education that controls many of the management decisions related to Network Schools

And yet, in an effort to cut corners, Commissioner Pryor’s process by-passes the critically important early involvement of local boards.

The Commissioner’s Network Expression of Interest Form, official documents that were all filed by January 4, 2013 asked the applicant (the local superintendent of schools);

(1)   Whether the Local board of education has been consulted and supports the school’s participation in the Commissioner’s Network and

(2)   Whether the representatives of exclusive bargaining units have been consulted and support the school’s participation in the Commissioner’s Network

The superintendent of schools in Windham schools submitted the “Expression of Interest form” but reported that neither the local board nor the local teacher’s union had been consulted.

The superintendent of New Britain schools submitted the form and reported that neither the local board nor the local teacher’s union had been consulted.

And the superintendent of New Haven schools submitted the form and also reported that neither the local board nor the local teacher’s union had been consulted.

Paul Vallas, the superintendent of Bridgeport’s schools reported that his Board had been consulted and supported the effort – which wasn’t true.  The issue wasn’t even raised to the local Board of Education until ten days later and at that point it was referred to a sub-committee for discussion.

The superintendents in Waterbury and Norwalk claimed that they too had the support of their boards and unions but the accuracy of that statement isn’t known.

In the highly charged environment of school reform, even an expression of interest is a major step for a town to make.  Imagine the superintendent of a suburban school informing the state, without the approval of their board, that the town is interested in turning over partial control of one of their schools to the state.  The superintendent would be tarred and feathered for treason.

So where are the voices of concern about this process?

In particular, where is the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE)?

Why are they silent on this gross violation of legislative intent?

CABE’s Mission is “To assist local and regional boards of education in providing high quality public education for all Connecticut children through effective leadership.”

In particular, “CABE advocates on behalf of boards of education at the state and federal level before the legislature, Congress, and state and federal agencies.”

No one but the local board of education should be offering up control of local schools.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the concept of utilizing the so-called Commissioner’s Network System, the process demands the highest level of involvement by local elected leaders.

CABE is funded by the local school districts, meaning it is funded, in no small part, by the local taxpayers of the towns that make up CABE’s membership.

CABE should be out in front demanding that local boards of education aren’t being swept aside by Commissioner Pryor’s rush to line up schools for his Commissioner’s Network.