As dedicated Danbury educators, our top priority is always the safety and well-being of our students. Whether the issue is how and when to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic or charter schools trying to siphon students and funding from the district, further segregating Danbury schools — we will always advocate for what is in the best interest of our students and their families, public education, and our community.
That’s why we stand strongly against the proposal to bring the Prospect Charter School, run by a charter management organization out of New York, into our Danbury community. The charter school organization wants you to believe it will fill a need in our city, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Charter schools were authorized by the state based on their potential to innovate and share best practices with the traditional public school sector. Unfortunately, many are used to profit from public tax dollars while operating outside of public accountability. Unlike public schools, charters are not accountable to a Board of Education elected by local residents. Public dollars are left in the hands of outsiders who, in several cases in Connecticut and beyond, have sought to wring a profit from the public funds intended for our children’s education. In fact, a 2017 audit of the Brooklyn Prospect Charter Schools revealed that 20 percent of revenues went to unnecessary, non-education expenses for management, fundraising, and profit (i.e., unspent revenues) that would otherwise not be allowed with a Danbury public school.
Danbury’s local tax dollars should stay in our public schools. If approved, the corporate-managed Danbury Prospect Charter School would drain much-needed funding and resources from our already struggling school system.
Danbury is one of a handful of Connecticut cities and towns with an increasing population, including a growing number of students attending public school. We need to address the growing student population, many of whom are English learners (ELs) and students with special needs. Though Danbury Prospect School is proposed to focus on ELs, in 2018-29 the group’s Brooklyn Prospect Schools ELs made up about 1 percent of the total enrolled student population. Charter schools like Prospect will not address the challenges of a growing population as they tend to only recruit and cherry-pick the top performing students. In addition, they unfairly send students who misbehave or exhibit special needs back to the local public schools that faithfully serve all students across a spectrum of needs, test scores, and other challenges. This cherry-picking results in a concentration of children in traditional schools who have high needs and require expensive services, while depriving them of the benefits of learning along with higher-performing student peers.
Our state tax dollars should also remain in our local public schools. Danbury would lose over $3,100 for each student who would attend the privately operated Prospect school. That’s over $2.4 million per year of our state tax dollars being taken away from Danbury schools. Worse yet, the state would then be required to send $11,250 per student to the Prospect school for a total of $8.7 million per year for 770 students. That’s an additional $6.3 million of our state tax dollars being sent to this private operator.
In addition to draining public resources, charters frequently don’t live up to their academic promises. Research shows that charters, despite drawing a more advantaged population than served by neighborhood public schools, perform the same or worse. And some charters, with zero-tolerance discipline and “no excuses” policies, are plagued by high suspension rates and lasting emotional and academic scars on their students.
In response to the many problems that have grown out of the charter movement, the NAACP issued a recommendation to put a halt to funding the expansion of charters as a result of many of these problems, as well as documented cases of discriminatory practices, worsening school segregation, unproven records of success, and a lack of accountability and transparency. Connecticut would be wise to follow suit.
We do not need a charter school. Instead, our community should focus our collective effort and resources toward the recently proposed Danbury Career Academy. The Danbury Career Academy would provide students with real-world career opportunities, offering students internships and hands-on job training with local companies. This concept-based school would alleviate many of the issues that face the Danbury Public Schools and would provide a true public school option. The Danbury Career Academy is a creative and innovative option that could provide families with an alternative choice from traditionally structured schools. While unique in concept, this school would still maintain all the critical elements of public education — transparency, accountability and elected community members to assure input and oversight in decision making and best instructional practices. That is not what we will receive from charter management organizations like Prospect.
We as a community must put students ahead of politics and reject the proposed Danbury Prospect Charter School. The future of our students depend on it.
Erin Daly, President; Tom Ross, Vice President; Melinda Scott, Secretary; and Josh Richter, Treasurer; of NEA Danbury.