Connecticut's charter school law was passed and signed in 1996 by Governor John G. Rowland. The law provided a framework for a charter school system in the state. According to the State Department of Education, public charter schools sought to catalyze innovation in Connecticut's public schools, as well as establish another vehicle to reduce racial and economic isolation of Connecticut's public school students.
We can look at the 20th anniversary of the creation of Connecticut’s public charter schools in at least two ways:
- The emergence of successful public charter schools has been the game-changer we expected them to be when they were created—to provide high-quality options for high-needs students seeking a better education experience.
- Although many public charter schools have experienced phenomenal success— particularly among students of color and high-needs students—they have not been able to scale to meet student demand.
There are a plethora of success stories on point No. 1, starting with very recent good news about Achievement First Amistad Academy in New Haven. The Achievement First school was recently ranked third in Connecticut and 105th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
At Amistad, where 98 percent of the students are of color, students score in the 97th percentile on math proficiency and in the 86th percentile on English proficiency, disproving the prevailing narratives that are often associated with schools with high-needs populations. More than 85 percent of students in Connecticut’s public charter schools are African American or Hispanic, more than 70 percent reported as low income, 9 percent qualify for special education and 5 percent are English Language Learners.
In fact, many charter schools fall within the top-performing public schools overall in their host districts: Achievement First Bridgeport is the highest-performing charter school in Bridgeport and the second highest-performing public school in the city overall based on the 2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests (SBAC). And a number of charter high schools report college acceptance rates between 90 percent and 100 percent.
On point No. 2, it is clear that more of our students deserve to have access to school choice. Connecticut has been slow to increase the number of charter schools beyond the 24 serving 9,300 students in spite of a growing waiting list. However, it is encouraging that the State Board of Education just approved growth for 14 of Connecticut’s public charter schools, totaling 390 seats. What's more, the state’s outdated, inequitable funding system hamstrings public charter schools' progress. Connecticut’s public charter schools receive on average $4,000 less per student than their host districts. Unlike their counterparts, public charter schools do not benefit from local funding sources and are funded entirely by the state.
So, as we celebrate 20 years of public charter schools in Connecticut, there is little doubt that they have provided thousands of students with better educational opportunities and set them on a path for future success, whether they are established schools such as Achievement First Amistad Academy, or relatively new schools such as Booker T. Washington Academy. However, if Connecticut is to continue to prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century, it must expand high-quality school options for more students who deserve the best education we can provide for them—regardless or where they live, what color they are, or their family’s level of income.