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.

Charter School Industry raised more than $24 million in 2016 record breaking defeat In Massachusetts

The final campaign finance reports have been submitted and the Charter School Industry raised and spent $24,476,132 in its losing effort to raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.

According to the Ballotopia website,

Question 2 would have authorized the approval of up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools per year.

Organizations in support of Question #2 in Massachusetts Total Raised
Yes on Two $710,100
Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools $2,418,570
Great Schools Massachusetts $21,198,748
Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools Ballot Committee $722,040
Expanding Educational Opportunities $575,002
TOTAL $25,624,360

An incredible 95 percent of the money that flowed into the Massachusetts charter school campaign came from out-of-state donors, with 84 percent of the total funds coming from New York based Families for Excellent Schools, a dark money charter school group that advocates in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

According to the official reports filed with the commonwealth of Massachusetts, a total of five political action committees engaged in the effort to fund the ballot proposition aimed at lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.  Together they reported raising a total of that $25,624,360, but that count reflects money funneled from one committee to another.  The actual amount raised was closer 24.5 million.

In addition to Families for Excellent schools, the list of corporate education reform donors included more than $1.8 million from Jim and Alice Walton of the Walmart fortune, $490,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from former Enron executive John Arnold.  Education Reform Now and a variety of other groups that refuse to release the names of their donors also contributed to the Massachusetts pro-charter school effort.

 

Major contributors to Question #2 Amount Donated
   
Families for Excellent Schools, (Advocacy) Inc. $20,803,679
Jim Walton $1,125,000
Strong Economy for Growth, Inc. $1,060,000
Alice Walton $710,000
Great Schools Massachusetts $501,000
Michael Bloomberg $490,000
Education Reform Now (Advocacy) $469,317
John Douglas Arnold $250,000
Edward Shapiro $250,000
Bradley Bloom $150,000
Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund $150,000
Ray Stata $125,000
Massachusetts Charter Public School Association $100,000
Paul Sagan $100,000
Charles Longfield $100,000
Cohasset VC LTD (TX) $100,000
Shari Redstone $100,000
Partners Healthcare $100,000
The Kraft Group $100,000
State Street Bank and Trust Co. $100,000
Suffolk Cares, Inc. $100,000
MassMutual Financial Group $50,000

Corporations donating to the anti-public education campaign included Partners Healthcare, The Kraft Group, State Street Bank and Trust, Co., Suffolk Cares and the MassMutual Financial Group.

The unprecedented effort to undermine public education in Massachusetts will go down as a stunning defeat for the charter school industry and the role of “dark” money in referendum politics.

The question was defeated with 62% voting against the measure and 38% voting in favor of lifting the cap and allowing more charter schools in Massachusetts.

Opponents of the measure included the Massachusetts Teachers Association, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and many local mayors, boards of education and teacher unions.

Proponents included the biggest corporate entities and individuals behind the corporate education reform movement including Families for Excellent Schools, Education Reform Now, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Family and a who’s who list of donors from the charter school industry.

The official ballot summary from the State of Massachusetts read:

This proposed law would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools each year.

Approvals under this law could expand statewide charter school enrollment by up to 1% of the total statewide public school enrollment each year. New charters and enrollment expansions approved under this law would be exempt from existing limits on the number of charter schools, the number of students enrolled in them, and the amount of local school districts’ spending allocated to them.

If the Board received more than 12 applications in a single year from qualified applicants, then the proposed law would require it to give priority to proposed charter schools or enrollment expansions in districts where student performance on statewide assessments is in the bottom 25% of all districts in the previous two years and where demonstrated parent demand for additional public school options is greatest.

New charter schools and enrollment expansions approved under this proposed law would be subject to the same approval standards as other charter schools, and to recruitment, retention, and multilingual outreach requirements that currently apply to some charter schools. Schools authorized under this law would be subject to annual performance reviews according to standards established by the Board.

Opponents of Question #2 organized through a political action committee called Save our Public Schools which was made up of parents, teachers and unions, with most of the money coming from teacher unions.  Save our Public Schools ended up raising just over $15 million ($15,406,897) in opposition to lifting the cap on charter schools.

Add New Haven Charter Schools to those that discriminate against English Language Learners and Special Education students

As noted in the recent Wait, What? articles entitled, Hartford Charters fail to accept and educate Latinos and English Language Learners and  Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children, the privately owned and operated, but publicly funded, charter schools located in Hartford and Bridgeport discriminate against Latino students, those who require assistance learning the English language and students who need special education services.

Data collected by the Connecticut State Department of Education further reveals that charter schools in New Haven are equally bad when it comes to accepting and educating their fair share of students who require these additional services.

Unlike true public schools that must accept every student that comes through the door, charter schools use a variety of underhanded and deceptive techniques to prevent a variety of needy students from enrolling in their schools, or once enrolled, use harsh disciplinary policies and other push-out strategies to rid their schools of what they perceive to be unwanted students.

The numbers are stark and disturbing.   The following chart highlights the level of discrimination in New Haven’s charter schools.

New Haven % English Language Learners % Special Education
New Haven Public Schools 14% 13%
Booker T Washington Charter 0% 0%
Common Ground Charter 0% 17%
Elm City Montessori Charter 0% 0%
Achievement First Inc. – Elm City Charter 5% 6%
Achievement First Inc. – Amistad Charter 11% 5%

The data further indicates that like charter schools in Hartford and Bridgeport, New Haven’s charter schools use what should be illegal tactics to push out certain students who might bring down their standardized test scores.

For example, Achievement First Inc. Amistad charter school in New Haven suspends English Language Learners at a rate 333% more than New Haven Public Schools, and

Achievement First Inc. Amistad suspends special education students 238% more than New Haven Public Schools

Under Connecticut law, local public schools must serve all the range of students that make up their community, but Charter Schools repeatedly fail when it comes to serving their fair share of students who require additional services.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s public schools go without the resources they need from the state, while Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly shovel more than $110 million a year to Connecticut’s charter school industry.

Hartford Charters fail to accept and educate Latinos and English Language Learners

As with Connecticut’s privately owned, but publicly funded, charter schools in Bridgeport, (See Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children), the charter schools in Hartford also refuse to accept and educate students who require help learning the English language and those who need special education services.

Connecticut charter schools already collect more than $100 million in scarce public funds from the state of Connecticut, diverting money away from the real public schools that do fulfil their responsibility to accept and educate all students.

Instead of meeting their obligation to their communities, charter schools discriminate against children in need – all in an attempt to boost their test scores.

The following chart highlights how Hartford’s charter schools are failing the capital city’s children,

Hartford % English Language Learners % Special Education
     
Hartford Public Schools 18% 16%
     
Jumoke Charter School 0% 6%
     
Achievement First Inc. – Hartford 6% 9%

 

Also, just as with the charter schools in Bridgeport, charter schools institute unfair and discriminatory discipline policies designed to force out children who require additional services and attention.

For example,

Achievement First Inc. – Hartford suspends English Language Learners 66% more than Hartford public schools.

Achievement First Inc. – Hartford suspends special education students 83% more than Hartford public schools.

Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children

As is the case elsewhere in Connecticut and across the country, charter schools generally refuse to accept and educate their fair share of children who require special education services, children who need help learning the English language, as well as children with disciplinary issues.

While siphoning off scarce public funds, these privately owned and operated schools fail to educate the wide range of students who live in their communities.

Rather than provide open door policies where all are welcome, charter schools “cream” off those students who they believe will score higher on standardized tests, thereby setting up the false narrative that the narrow, teaching to the test methodology used by charter schools makes them more successful than real public schools.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the charter school industry’s discriminatory approach is in full view.

In a community in which nearly one in six students are not fluent in the English language and many require additional English language services, two Bridgeport charter schools report that they have no ELL students and none of the six charter schools in the city educate an appropriate share of students who need help learning the English language.

Failing to educate English language learners is an “effective” way in which charter schools artificially inflate their test scores.  Not having ELL students means they needn’t worry about those children bringing down their average scores.

A similar story is evident when looking at the charter school industry’s failure to enroll and educate students who require special education services.

As with ELL students, Bridgeport’s charter schools simply fail to enroll and educate those students who would utilize special education programs despite the fact that state law requires schools receiving state funds not to discriminate and the law ensures that any special education costs that the charter schools must make to assist their students will be reimbursed by the community’s public school system.

In addition to the failure to accept appropriate numbers of special education students, when charter schools do report having students who need special services, the data reveal that they are students with fewer and less severe special education needs.

Compounding the problem is the Connecticut charter schools’ record of disciplinary abuses.  Many charter schools suspend and punish students in a never-ending attempt to get parents to withdraw the students that charter schools have accepted but do not want.

For example, Achievement First Inc. Bridgeport suspends English Language Learners at a rate 137% more than the Bridgeport Public Schools and the same school – Achievement First Inc. Bridgeport – suspends special education students 101% more than the Bridgeport Public Schools.

Using data provided by the Connecticut State Department of Education, the following chart highlights Bridgeport charter school’s failure to educate students who aren’t fluent in the English language.

 

Bridgeport % English Language Learners
Bridgeport Public Schools 14%
Park City Charter 0%
Great Oaks 12%
New Beginnings Charter 0%
Side by Side Charter 6%
Bridge Academy Charter 3%
Achievement First Inc. – Bridgeport 11%

Despite the record fiscal crisis facing Connecticut and the state’s shocking record of under-funding its public schools, charter schools are trying to grab even more public funds this legislative session.  However, the real data makes the situation clear.  Charter schools want taxpayer funds but refuse to provide the services that goes with being a public school.

Charter School Industry’s reach expanding even before Trump…

President-elect Donald Trump is a HUGE fan of charter schools.  His nominee for Secretary of Education, billionaire Betsy DeVos, is even more supportive of the privately owned but publicly funded corporate entities that run charter schools.  DeVos has spent hundreds of millions of dollars championing charter schools, public funded vouchers for private and religious education and the inappropriate Common Core standards.

Charter schools are counting on the Trump administration to dramatically accelerate to privatization of public education in the United States.

But even before Trump and DeVos take office, the charter school industry has been enjoying unprecedented growth thanks to Presidents Bush and Obama and their corporate education reform allies like governors Dannel Malloy and Andrew Cuomo.

In a report issued late last year by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the charter school industry bragged that as of 2014-2015 there were 17 U.S. cities in which charter schools controlled at least 30% of all students.

While there were more than 6,700 charter schools in the country enrolling approximately 3 million students (about 6% of all students), the charter school industry’s saturation rate is much higher in a group of poorer urban areas.  While charter school reached was 30% in 17 school districts in the United States, the percent of students attending charter schools was more than 50% in three school districts, New Orleans, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan

According to their report,

“The districts across the country where at least 30 percent of students are enrolled in charter schools are: New Orleans (92 percent); Detroit (53 percent); Flint, MI (53 percent); Washington, D.C. (45 percent); Gary, IN (43 percent); Kansas City, MO (40 percent); Camden, NJ (34 percent); Philadelphia (34 percent); Indianapolis (31 percent); Dayton, OH (31 percent); Cleveland, OH (31 percent); Grand Rapids, MI (31 percent); Victor Valley, CA (31 percent); San Antonio, TX (30 percent); Natomas, CA (30 percent); Newark, NJ (30 percent); and St. Louis (30 percent).

The charter school industry also explained that that,

“Los Angeles has the highest overall number of students enrolled in charter schools, with more than 156,000. During the 2015-16 school year, Los Angeles charter schools enrolled an additional 4,700 students over the previous year. New York City is second with almost 100,000 charter school students last year, nearly double its enrollment five years ago. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of charter school students in New York City has increased from nearly 39,000, to nearly 94,000 – an increase of more than 54,000 students. Rounding out the top 10 districts in charter school enrollment are: Philadelphia (63,520); Chicago (59,060); Miami-Dade (58,280); Houston (55,710); Detroit (51,240); Broward County, FL (44,320); New Orleans (44,190); and Washington, D.C. (38,910). These top 10 districts serve nearly a quarter of all charter school students in the country.”

And the reported concluded that, “there are six districts in which about 40 percent of the students are enrolled in charter schools; 17 school districts have 30 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools and 44 districts have 20 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools.”

Overall, there are now at least 190 districts that have at 10 percent or more of their students enrolled in charter schools, according to the national association that represents charter schools.

In state after state, district after district, charter schools discriminate against students who require special education services, students who need help learning the English language and students who have disciplinary issues.  Yet despite that record of failures, charter schools are collecting billions in taxpayer funds.

Worse, they are now planning for a windfall of riches thanks to Donald Trump and his administration.

Connecticut’s outstanding public education system is undermined by its achievement gap crisis.

Many of Connecticut’s public schools are among the best in the nation but the massive achievement gap between wealthy and poor towns is a crisis of epic proportions in this state and across the country.

However, the corporate education reform movement would have us believe that America’s education system is failing.  In fact, here in Connecticut, corporate funded charter school front groups are quick to condemn Connecticut’s public schools en masse.

Their false news rhetoric is beyond inaccurate, it is downright disgraceful and misleading.

Connecticut does have a severe academic achievement gap which is a result of the extreme poverty that is preventing many children from reaching their potential.

But by nearly every measure, Connecticut’s public schools excel compared to those in most other states.

The scores Connecticut’s students received on the 2015 NAEP scores tell the story.

As the United States government explains, the “National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”

While the absurd Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is a “high-stakes” test designed to fail students, the NAEP has sought to reflect whether a random group of students have a basic understanding of the key concepts that are actually being taught at each appropriate grade level.

When it comes to the NAEP scores, Connecticut has always been among the highest scoring states in the United States.

In 2015, for example, more than 8 in 10 Connecticut students who took the NAEP test scored at or above the goal level.  By comparison, only about 60% of the students in Louisiana scored at or above the goal level.

2015 NAEP – Percent of students scoring at or above goal

Connecticut   82% at or above goal

Louisiana        63% at or above goal.

The detailed results from the Connecticut NAEP testing reveal just how successful that state’s public schools are and where the problems exist.

Connecticut NAEP Results (2015)

8th Grade Reading Score on NAEP Percent at or above Goal Level
Connecticut Students 82%
Connecticut – White Students 89%
Connecticut – African American Students 60%
Connecticut – Latino Students 69%
Connecticut – Low Income Students 67%

Compare and contrast Connecticut to Louisiana.  Nearly all of Connecticut’s lowest performing cohorts score at or above the average student in Louisiana and all student sub-groups do significantly better in Connecticut than they do in Louisiana.

8th Grade Reading Score on NAEP Connecticut

Percent at or above Goal Level

Louisiana

Percent at or above Goal Level

All Students 82% 63%
White Students 89% 79%
African American Students 60% 49%
Connecticut – Latino Students 69% n/a
Connecticut – Low Income Students 67% 55%

 

The data from the NAEP test reiterates the core reality that Connecticut’s public schools are among the best in the nation but that poverty remains the most insidious barrier to academic achievement.  Since poverty and race are closely tied in the United States, African-American and Latino students are at a significant disadvantage to the White students who tend to live in more affluent communities.

That said, the truth is hardly a concern when it comes to the slick marketing and public relations tactics of the charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement who consistently – and wrongly – claim that American public education is a failure.

Rather than allow them to hide behind their false news efforts, elected and appointed officials should be clear about the problems facing public schools in Connecticut and the United States.

The real and substantive answer is not more privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools, corporate entities that refuse to accept and educate their fair share of students who face additional challenges.

The correct policy is for Connecticut officials to step up and address the growing impact of inequity, poverty and a lack of resources that are limiting the success in many of Connecticut’s schools.

The factors undermining public education in the United States can be dealt with but it will take a level of commitment and responsibility that many officials have yet to display.

Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

Despite the political rhetoric coming out of ConnCAN and other charter school industry front groups, Trinity’s Robert Cotto reveals that Connecticut’s charter schools do not outperform local public schools.

 Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

 

A few weeks ago, attorney Wendy Lecker asked me in an interview for the Stamford Advocate, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform district schools?” My answer was, “Not exactly”.

As my Choice Watch report (Cotto & Feder, 2014) demonstrated, charter schools in Connecticut tend to serve a relatively more advantaged group of (mostly) Black and Latinx children including fewer children with disabilities, emerging bilingual children, and children eligible for free and reduced priced meals compared to the students in local public schools in the same cities as the charter schools. As a result, comparing the test results of charter schools with local public schools is like comparing “apples to oranges” because they often serve very different groups of children.

However, using a simple scatterplot chart, it is fairly easy to show that charter schools’ mean test results are not overwhelmingly better when compared with public school districts that have similarly-situated students in terms of a rough income indicator. Other scholars, such as Bruce Baker (2012) at Rutgers University, have constructed scatterplots of income vs. 7th grade math test results to demonstrate similar observations about charter and public schools.

For example, below I constructed an interactive scatterplot that compares 6th grade average scale scores on the CMT reading (2012) versus percentage of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (FRPM) at the district level (Google sheet data here). This scatterplot data visualization has three major data points. First, each public district and charter school is positioned by the the overall percent FRPM (x-axis). Second, each district is positioned on the y-axis by its mean scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. Third, the size of the dots correspond to the percentage of emerging bilingual children (crudely labeled as “English Language Learners” by the State).

You can scroll over the dots to see the public school district or charter school name and their demographics and test data. Public school districts are in blue dots and charter schools are in red dots. By placing these data points on a scatterplot, we can more easily compare the average test results of districts and charter schools that are similar in terms of district-wide free and reduced meal eligibility. (See the end for notes on limitations of this data and method.)

For the interactive chart Comparing Average Scale Score & Free/Reduced Meal Eligibility in CT School Districts 2012 go to:  http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

So what does this scatterplot show? Here are some observations:

  • There is a strong negative linear relationship (r= -.869) between this rough income indicator (eligibility for free and reduced priced meals) and average scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. (i.e. as free and reduced priced meal eligibility increases, average reading scores decrease)
  • When compared to similar districts by income, some (4) charter schools appear to have higher than average test results, some (4) have lower than average test results, and some (4) are right in the middle of the pack, or near the average.
  • If charter schools (red dots) had overwhelmingly higher test results, then we would expect more of their average scores to be above the majority of blue dots at their % FRPM level.

Want a closer look?

This second scatterplot chart only compares charter schools with the public school districts where they are located. The same pattern appears.

For example, Bridgeport Public Schools enrolled children that were 99% eligible for FRPM and 12.6% emerging bilingual (ELL). By comparison, all Bridgeport charter schools had higher average scale scores in reading, but lower rates of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (68-85%) and emerging bilingual students (0-4%). There are exceptions, of course, such as Amistad Academy, which often appears comparable to New Haven Public Schools in terms of %FRPM, %ELL, and higher in average scale score.

And there are examples on the other end of the spectrum. The hypersegregated Stamford charter schools contain larger proportions of Black and Latinx students, those eligible for free/reduced price meals, and those with disabilities compared to the local Stamford public school district. They also appear to be outliers in terms of having very low average scale scores.

For the interactive chart comparing Avg. Scale Score CMT Read & District & District Demographics go to: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

This test result (“performance”) question is important because it is at the center of claims made about charter schools in Connecticut. The claim that charter schools achieve superior test results as a result of effort, choice, accountability, educational program, governance structure, or some other reason, is frequently cited by charter school lobbyists at the legislature and the CT State Department of Education. 

The simple claim hinges on a statement like this one from a presentation on charter schools by the CT SDE: “Of the 14 charter schools that administered the spring 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test, 12 schools (or 86%) outperformed their host district with their overall SPI.” (CT SDE, 2015) With this statistic, we are left to conclude (or told by the charter school lobby) that charter schools are supposedly excelling compared to local public schools.

The CT SDE presentation (below) offers similar statistics and a chart highlighting some demographics of charter schools versus “alliance” and all other districts, but it does not caution the reader these characteristics could impact test results and comparisons. What the CT SDE and charter school lobbyists are not explicitly telling you in these claims is that charter schools often serve a relatively more advantaged group of Black and Latinx children compared to the local public schools where they are located and these children are likely to do relatively better on standardized tests because standardized tests favor more advantaged groups of people. Therefore, it is not a fair comparison to directly compare charter schools test results to those in local public school districts without some sort of modification (e.g. compare districts similar in income levels and/or other characteristics).

Charter Renewal Process, SBE Overview | April 6, 2015

Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015.

The State is comparing “apples (public schools) to oranges (charter schools)” on test results, despite knowing (it’s their data!) that the massive demographic differences that make these simple comparisons very misleading. To be sure, the CT SDE assists in making these same simplistic comparisons of test results between urban and suburban schools districts as well. This type of misleading comparison of test results persists and is now baked into the CT State Department of Education policy on reviewing and renewing charter schools.

All of this is meant to say that using blunt comparisons of test results does not prove that charter schools or public schools are any better or worse than each other in terms of academic performance, or any other characteristic. Instead, I am arguing that comparisons of test results must account for often massive demographic differences. This was a major recommendation of the Choice Watch (2014) report. I would also add, as I’ve written elsewhere, that school performance should be thought of in broader terms than standardized tests. Simple comparisons of standardized test results will always favor schools with barriers to entry and participation (e.g. charter, magnet, vocational technical schools) and advantaged districts where families must buy or rent homes to attend local schools (affluent, suburban).

So when somebody asks the question, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform public school districts?”, how will you answer?

Notes: 1. There are many other and better ways of analyzing this question about charter and public schools. My observations above are based on scatterplot charts that crudely “account” for income (FRPM). 2. The data above comes from 2012, the most recent data in which average scale score on State tests can be compared to other demographic information. 3. Finally, the %FRPM applies to all grades in the district, while the average scale score applies to all students in a district in the 6th grade taking the standard version of the test. The State does not share %FRPM data at the grade level. 4. Average scale scores are a better measure of central tendency compared to percent of students at proficient or goal because scale scores do not lump students status levels at arbitrary cut points.

Draining dollars from our students by Wendy Lecker

Columnist and education advocate Wendy Lecker writes about Governor Dannel Malloy’s attack on Connecticut’s public schools and his ongoing effort to privatize public education in Connecticut.

In Draining dollars from our students, Wendy Lecker writes;

Though the CCJEF v. Rell trial, Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled that the Connecticut provides more than adequate school funding, his actual findings of fact, found in the Appendix to his decision, confirm CCJEF’s claims that public schools are woefully under-resourced.

The judge found that CCJEF districts had severe deficiencies in special education teachers, interventionists for reading and math, social workers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, and services for English Language Learners. Bridgeport was forced to cut 73.5 teachers, including special education teachers, social workers and psychologists in one year, even as the population grew. New Britain had to make similar cuts.

Adequate funding for all means that children who need extra support to learn get it. As the New York court said, the opportunity for an adequate education “must be placed within reach of all students.”

Moukawsher found that CCJEF districts lacked resources to provide their most vulnerable students with the extra help and support they need to access basic educational opportunities. Therefore, his conclusion that the state is providing more than adequate funding is astounding.

Because of Moukawsher’s ruling, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy felt free to cut $20 million in school aid from the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) school funding formula last week.

Districts that cannot afford teachers must scramble to fill a quarter-of-a-million-dollar hole halfway through the school year.

Simultaneously, the Malloy administration announced plans to expand publicly funded, privately managed charter schools. Austerity is only imposed on district public schools, apparently.

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 to 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.

Wendy Lecker’s column first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on it at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Draining-dollars-from-our-students-10840529.php

Will Governor Malloy propose boondoggle for charter schools under guise of new education funding formula?

Connecticut’s existing school funding formula is unfair, inappropriate and unconstitutional.  It leaves Connecticut’s public schools without the resources they need and places an unfair burden on Connecticut’s middle income families.

The CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit, which should have been called the CCJEF v. Malloy suit, made the problem extremely clear.

The time has come to return to the fundamental principles that served as the underpinning of the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) Formula before it was gutted by Governor Malloy and previous Connecticut governors and legislatures.

However, rather than step up and address the major flaws with the existing failed funding system, Governor Dannel Malloy made a thinly veiled reference today, in his State of the State Address, that he plans to propose a new state education funding formula, one that would likely pump even more scarce public funds to Connecticut’s privately owned and operated charter schools.

In addition, Malloy appears poised to suggest that any increase in education funding be restricted to only the poorest communities and that it come with strict new red tape and mandates, a move that will make it even more difficult for local school boards to provide students with the educational opportunities they need and deserve.

Since taking office in 2011, Governor Malloy has failed to adequately fund Connecticut’s real public schools, which in turn has translated to reduced programs and higher local property taxes – not only in Connecticut’s 30 poorest towns, but in communities across the state.

Compounding the problem, Malloy has successfully diverted more than $100 million dollars a year to Connecticut’s privately owned charter schools, despite the fact that these private companies fail to accept and educate their fair share of students who require special education services, those who need help learning the English language and those who have disciplinary issues.

Now as his time in office is coming to an end, Malloy appears unwilling to truly address the fact all public schools, not just those in the poorest districts, need additional state aid.

Instead Malloy’s speech today suggests that he is laying the ground work to further privatize public education, while saddling poorer cities and towns with even more mandates, rules and regulations.

Malloy’s flowery, but hollow, words today included the following;

 “Connecticut needs a new way to calculate educational aid—one that guarantees equal access to a quality education regardless of zip code”

It will be based on the local property tax burden, student need, and current enrollment.

The system will be designed to be more fair, transparent, accountable, and adaptable—meaning that it will provide flexibility to fit the needs of a given community.

The result will be a fairer distribution of our state’s limited funds.

And if we are successful in this effort, there will be an important ancillary benefit—we can help ensure that no Connecticut city or town will need to explore the avoidable path of bankruptcy.

To be clear, that kind of help shouldn’t come without strings attached. If the state is going to play a more active role in helping less-affluent communities—in helping higher-taxed communities—part of that role will be holding local political leadership and stakeholders to substantially higher standards and greater accountability than they’ve been held to in the past. We should do it so that increased aid doesn’t simply mean more spending on local government.

Stay tuned for what Malloy will really propose when he issues his budget next month.

You can read Malloy’s full speech here – Malloy State of the State address