New CT report: ‘Corporate-style’ charter schools shortchange kids, waste taxpayer dollars

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by Brian Washington

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Some charter school management organizations (CMO)—and their wealthy executives—are pocketing taxpayer dollars that should be spent on students. That’s according to a new report, which wants state lawmakers, parents, and community leaders to take a closer look at the millions in public funding going to “corporate-style charter schools” and how that money is being spent.

The report, entitled Corporate-Style Charter Schools in Connecticut, looked at data over the last five fiscal years (2011-2016) from six charters operated by two CMOs—Achievement First and Domus. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are operated independently from local boards of education and exempt from some rules applicable to all other taxpayer-funded schools.

The report found that the percent change in management fees per pupil, the money a CMO takes in to run a charter, leaped 53 percent for Achievement First and Domus. The report says Achievement First, which takes 13 percent off the top from the $11,000 the state allocates for each charter student, raked in $5.3 million dollars in management fees for FY2016.

However, the change in regular expenditures per pupil, the amount both spends on each student, went down by 10 percent.

Educator Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), which represents more than 43,000 educators statewide, says this is money that’s being taken away from students and schools in need.

These CMOs are shaking down the State of Connecticut and using money earmarked for our students to line their own pockets—profiting off the backs of our children and state taxpayers,” said Cohen. “Our schools and teachers are always working hard to do what’s best for students, but these CMOs are doing anything but.

And at a time when taxpayers are being asked to pay more to cover budget shortfalls and important services, the report, which was funded by CEA, details how salaries for wealthy executives at Domus and Achievement First have jumped significantly, in some cases more than 50 percent.

“Instead of cutting millions of dollars in education funding to local school districts we have to stop wasting money and stop giving taxpayer dollars to millionaires operating charter schools in Connecticut,” said Cohen.

This is not to say that all charters fall into the same category as the ones run by Domus and Achievement First. Several charters operate quite successfully in the state without management organizations or skyrocketing fees, including the state’s first charter school, which was founded by CEA.

However, Cohen believes corporate-style charters described in the report need more oversight and transparency regarding how they treat their finances and, more importantly, students, including those kids deemed “low-performing” who are often forced out to make the school look good academically.

“Charter schools that were intended to be more accountable to the public are turning out to be anything but, and many CMOs have taken an ‘educate the best and forget about the rest’ mentality, motivated by self-gain,” said Cohen. “That kind of philosophy has no place in public education.”

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