Bridgeport's Park City Prep Charter School Executive Director Bruce Ravage sets the record straight on the great work our schools are doing.
I am troubled and perplexed as to why seemingly intelligent people ignore the facts and distort the truth about the charter schools in Connecticut. In her commentary “Do courts need to guide Malloy about education?” (Sept. 20),Wendy Lecker makes a number of allegations that are misleading or utterly untrue, the most egregious of which being the oft-heard claim that “charter schools are not public schools at all.”
Here is the truth.
Charter schools ARE public schools: By law, they must adhere to all public education laws, hire appropriately licensed teachers, follow the same curriculum standards as do traditional school districts, take the same standardized, state-wide assessments and are free of tuition and open to all applicants.
Additionally, Connecticut charter schools need authorization from the state Board of Education and support from the legislature. The officials elected to public office from every municipality must vote to approve the funding of all charter schools in the state. This is a democratic process that does not “steamroll the will of the people,” as Ms. Lecker would have you believe. Moreover, charter schools are also required by law to have parent and a representative of the local board of education serve on their board.
Charters don’t divert resources: Connecticut charters do not divert any money earmarked for the traditional public schools; in fact, the traditional public schools actually have more to spend per-child every time a student leaves a district school to attend a charter school. By law, when a student leaves a district school to attend a charter school, the almost $9,000 Bridgeport receives from the state for each student, for example, stays with the district even though the district is no longer educating that student.
Charters receive less public funding: Charter schools in Connecticut are funded at a much lower level than the traditional public schools. Bridgeport spends approximately $15,000 per student, not $9,000, as Ms. Lecker implies. Her claims are disingenuous at best. She neglects to tell you that the per-pupil spending in Bridgeport consists of both the state ECS allocation and the money it derives from the local taxpayers. Charter schools do not receive any public funding other than the state allocation.
Charter students represent their communities: Connecticut’s charter schools do serve primarily “needy” students, because they are located in communities with needy students. The families that choose to attend charter schools are predominantly low-income students of color. All charter schools intentionally and aggressively recruit students from every sector of their respective communities, including low-income and special needs students, which is also required by law. More importantly, if charter schools are charged with serving “needy” students and are in fact doing that and doing it extraordinarily well, we should be applauded for that work. Those of us in the charter school world are committed to that moral imperative and proud to serve that community of students and their families.
Special education costs are there, no matter what: Charter schools do not force “financially strapped” local districts to pay for additional special education costs. Every district across the nation is required to pay for special education costs. Whether students attend traditional schools or charter schools, the costs are the same. If special education students who currently attend charter schools were to return to their district schools, the district would have to absorb and serve those students with the same money currently used to support them at their charters.
Same with transportation costs: Like special education, the district is responsible for transportation, even for its residents who do not attend public schools. Still, Bridgeport not only receives reimbursement for a portion of its transportation costs, but uses the same buses to deliver charter, district, parochial, and vocational school students. There are buses that deliver students to a charter school each morning before doing a daily run for a district school. The same in the afternoon. This process reduces the cost of transportation for the district.
The state has stringent guidelines for charter authorization: When the state reauthorizes charter schools, it does so only if they meet rigorous standards of performance. In point of fact, eight of the 32 charter schools authorized by the state have been closed or converted to district schools. The data is clear: Virtually all of the existing charter schools in Connecticut have not only measured up to the state’s standards, but have far outperformed their host district counterparts.
Charter schools in Connecticut serve all children and are held to very high standards of accountability. It’s time we set the record straight: Charter schools are doing important work to raise the level of performance for children who need it the most and to close the achievement gap between our inner-city students and those in our more affluent communities.
Bruce Ravage is the executive director of Park City Prep Charter School in Bridgeport.
This originally appeared on CT Post.