Despite the controversies surrounding Connecticut’s charter school industry and the growing level of state debt, Governor Dannel Malloy’s Connecticut Bond Commission, with the support of the Republican members of that Commission, allocated an additional $5 million earlier this week to, “assist charter schools with capital expenses.”
Adding to the cost to taxpayers is the fact that Malloy is using the state’s already over-extended credit card to make these generous payments. The technique will dramatically increase the long-term cost for taxpayers since the total burden will now include the $5 million in grants PLUS the associated interest and expenses related to borrowing the money.
The latest $5 million in construction grant funds for charter schools comes on top of $20 million that the Bond Commission has already handed out to Connecticut’s charter schools.
Not surprisingly, heading the list of beneficiaries is Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s (now former) Commissioner of Education.
While the City of Bridgeport’s public education budget faced additional cuts this school year, Achievement First Inc.’s charter school in Bridgeport will be getting a free $850,000 in public funds to construct a new cafeteria, classrooms and gymnasium space.
And in the small world department;
One of the two principals at Achievement First – Bridgeport is Katherine Baker, who is married to Morgan Barth, the Director of the State Department of Education’s Turnaround Office.
Morgan Barth, a former long-time employee of Achievement First Inc., was recruited by Commissioner Pryor in 2013 to leave Achievement First and join him at the State Department of Education. Before joining Pryor at the State Department, Barth served as the other principal at Achievement First Bridgeport. Barth also has the dubious distinction of having illegally taught and worked for Achievement First Inc. from 2004 until 2010.
Making the whole situation even more “complex,” in addition to running Pryor’s “turnaround” operation, Morgan Barth also heads up the State Department of Education’s “Charter School Accountability” program.
When Commissioner Pryor announced Barth’s appointment he wrote, “Mr. Barth will serve as the Division Director for Turnaround in the Turnaround Office. He will guide all of the work of the division. Mr. Barth brings a wealth of experience as an educator and school leader – particularly in school environments that are in need of intensive intervention. Before coming to the SDE, he led improvement efforts at two of the lowest performing schools in the Achievement First Network, first at Elm City College Prep and most recently at Achievement First Bridgeport’s middle school. At Elm City, he taught fifth and sixth grade reading for four years before becoming the principal and taught fourth grade in Arkansas before coming to Connecticut in 2004.” Barth was a TFA teacher in Arkansas].
But what Pryor did not explain was that Barth was unable to acquire certification under Connecticut’s teacher and administrator certification law, meaning that despite repeated warnings from the State Department of Education’s Certification Division, Achievement First, Inc. allowed Barth to teach and serve as an administrator from 2004 to 2010, despite his total lack of certification to work in a Connecticut public school.
Luckily for Barth, and thanks in part to a $100,000-a-year lobbying contract with one of Connecticut’s most influential lobbying firms, Achievement First, Inc. (and its associated organizations ConnCAN and ConnAD) were able to convince the Connecticut General Assembly to pass a law in 2010 that exempted Connecticut’s charter schools from Connecticut’s mandatory teacher and administrator certification requirements.
As a result of that law, starting on July 1, 2010, Connecticut’s charter schools could have up to 30% of their staff be uncertified. The law was particularly important for Achievement First Bridgeport since they had in excess of 36 percent of their staff uncertified at the time.
The law meant that while Barth worked illegally from 2004 to 2010, he could legally serve as Achievement First Bridgeport’s principal until he joined Pryor at the State Department of Education.
How Barth got away with teaching illegally for six years remains somewhat of mystery, although it may have helped him that he is related to Richard Barth, the head of the massive KIPP charter school chain, who in turn, is married to Wendy Koop, the founder of Teach For America.
In any case, back to this week’s State Bond Commission meeting.
The $5 million in grant funds were allocated to a total of five charter schools. At least three of the charter schools will be using the taxpayer money to pay down debt on buildings that these private charter school companies own.
No… you read that correctly…
Malloy and his administration, in this case with the support of the Republican members of the Bond Commission, are borrowing money to give to privately owned, but publicly funded charter school companies so that they can pay down mortgages on buildings that they own and will be able to keep even if they decide to close their charter schools.
The cost to taxpayers for this corporate welfare program will be the $5 million plus interest, while the benefit to the private charter school company will be less debt and lower debt payments, therefore giving them the ability to keep (or use) more of the taxpayer funding they get from their annual charter school operating grant that they also receive from the state.
According to the State Department of Education, Charter Schools may request up to $850,000 from this particular charter school grant program.
While the primary purpose of the program is to help charter schools, “Finance school building projects, including the construction, purchase, extension, replacement, renovation or major alteration of a building to be used for public school purposes,” the law does allow charter school companies to seek grants to, “Repay debt incurred for school building projects, including paying outstanding principal on loans which have been incurred for school building projects.”
Now, next time you hear the Malloy administration talk about charter school accountability, you’ll know a bit more of the back story.