New report on charter management fees in Connecticut

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Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 2.56.12 PMSource: CT SDE, 2016; Rodriguez, 2016

A few years ago, I wrote in ctnewsjunkie.com about charter management fees charged by private companies that manage charter schools in Connecticut. The total management fees added up to millions in state dollars diverted from charter schools to these management companies. A new report from CEA, the state’s largest teachers union, (prepared by Rodriguez Data Solutions, LLC) shows that these charter management fees are growing at a higher rate than overall State spending on charter schools in Connecticut.

Not all charter schools in Connecticut charge pay management fees. In fact, most charter schools do not pay management fees, so the report looks closely on the handful that do: Achievement First, Domus, Great Oaks, and Our Piece of the Pie. The charter management schools charge fees at charter schools in the cities that serve mostly Black and some Latinx students.

You can take a look at the Executive Summary of the report below and the data here. As a result of these findings, the CEA has urged legislators:

  • to review the revenue sources and expenditures of corporate-style charter schools and is specifically calling for
  • The prohibition of management fees in all Connecticut charter schools
  • More accountability and transparency of all charter schools
  • An investigative audit of all CMOs
  • Total disclosure of CMO finances
  • Public disclosure of all CMO information through the state’s Freedom of Information Act
  • A moratorium on future charter school expansion

What do you think?

Download (PDF, 513KB)

Why do students in Connecticut’s charter schools get so much more per-pupil funding from the State compared to public schools?

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Bridgeport ECS fundin 2013-14 Source: CT State Department of Education (Edsight), 2016.

As a session dedicated to writing the biennial budget, the 2017 legislative session will likely feature discussions of the State’s funding of public schools and charter schools. The rhetoric and propaganda will heat up, so it will be important to understand key facts about public schools compared to privately-managed charter schools in Connecticut. The most important fact to remember will be that most students in public schools get substantially less per-pupil funding from the State of Connecticut than students in privately-managed charter schools.

Here’s why:

Public schools are accountable to the public and funded through a combination of local, State, and federal funds, in many cases.

Although providing public education is the responsibility of the State, this responsibility has been delegated to local, democratically elected school boards with the exception of Black and Latinx Hartford and New Haven, which have a majority of mayoral appointees. Funding of public schools in Connecticut is a shared responsibility too.

Towns and cities collect revenue mostly through property taxes and large shares of the total go to fund the local public schools. While some towns pay for local public schools almost entirely through local funds (Westport = 96% local funds), some towns rely heavily on State funding (Bridgeport – 20% local funds, 70% State funds). On average, towns and cities paid for public schools with 66% local funding and 29% State funding in 2013-14. The remaining small share is from public federal and private sources of funding.

When it works as intended, public schools are ultimately accountable to local citizens that vote for members of their school board who govern the schools and budgets that go towards their local schools. This arrangement ensures mostly local control of schools to implement the State (legislature/governor) obligation of a public education.

The State helps towns/cities pay for public education primarily through the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grant that varies by town/city need and ability to pay for public schools.

In the 1970’s, many courts around the country found that funding schools only on property taxes was regressive. In other words, towns with greater property wealth were able to tax at lower rates compared to towns with lower property wealth, which had to levy taxes at higher rates. Therefore, property-rich towns, which often had less need, were able to fund their schools more adequately with far less effort.

For instance, the Horton v. Meskill case in Connecticut found this funding arrangement unconstitutional and the State of Connecticut responded by funding a grant to help towns and cities to pay for public schools in addition to the local revenue (e.g. property taxes). Today, that system is called the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grant. The idea was to “equalize’ funding for public education so that per-pupil funding in various towns did not vary too greatly.

Today the ECS grant is somewhat progressive, or, in other words, towns/cities with higher need and less ability to pay get a larger grant from the State to help fund schools in addition to local funds. This “cost-sharing” means that both local and State funds pay for public schools in addition to federal funds that make up a larger share in urban districts.

ECS grants to towns range widely because the amount was historically based on need and ability to paid. The grant has never been “fully” funded, so to speak. Although the formula to allocate ECS grants is relatively progressive, it has rarely been implemented as written because funding depends on compromises in the legislature and Governor’s office. The ECS grant has been frozen in many cases, while in some cases the ECS grant was reduced as the State imposes financial austerity in Connecticut. My former CT Voices for Children colleague, Orlando Rodriguez, analyzed the problems with the ECS a few years ago. In practice, the ECS grant is a “block” grant rather than a per-pupil grant. But we can find an average per-pupil grant fairly easily. ($ ECS grant / # student in district)

In general, towns and cities with greater need and less ability to pay through local property taxes get a larger ECS grant when broken down on an average or per pupil basis. In 2013-14, Bridgeport’s average, or per-pupil, ECS State grant was $8,388, Hartford’s $9,276, and New Haven was $7,061. The average, per pupil State ECS grant to all towns and cities for public schools was $4,195 in 2013-14.

Because privately-managed charter schools are not accountable to the public in local towns and cities, the State, not local taxpayers, provides a grant of roughly $11,000 per student to operate and subsidize privately-managed charter schools. Charter schools also receive federal and private funds.

Charter schools in Connecticut are privately-managed schools that are considered separate school districts from the public school districts in the same towns and cities. So Achievement First-Bridgeport is a separate school district from the Bridgeport Public Schools, for example. The former is operated by a private, non-profit corporation called Achievement First, Inc. with an appointed board of directors and the latter is operated by the democratically-elected board of education of Bridgeport citizens.

While charter school advocates would argue that charter schools in Connecticut are public, they operate more like private schools that get public dollars. Charter schools are not accountable to the public in the same ways as charter schools. For this and other reasons, the NAACP, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Journey for Justice civil rights organizations have called for a moratorium on charter schools and other forms of privatization.

In 2015-16, the State spent $11,000 per student at every charter school in the State. (In 2013-14, this amount was $10,500.) With about 8,018 students in all charter schools (CT Mirror), the total State funding of State charter schools was $88,198,000. By comparison, the New Britain Public Schools had more than 10,071 students, but received the basic ECS grant that totaled $85 million from the State, a per pupil (average) grant of $8,804. (Math: New Britain ECS grant $88,661,444 / # of students 10,071). The New Britain school district has roughly the same rate of low-income families, slightly fewer children of color, more students with disabilities, and emerging bilingual students than the average charter school. In other words, New Britain may have greater needs as a district than the charter school sector overall, but gets a smaller per-pupil base ECS grant on average from the State.

This pattern where charter school students get more in basic State funding than students in public school districts from the ECS grant is almost universal.

2013-14 State ECS/Charter Grant – Per-Pupil

This situation happens because privately-managed charter schools operate outside of local and public accountability and funding, so the State must subsidize these schools at a much higher rate than local public schools in every other town and city. In short, the State created semi-private schools that do not operate within the educational cost sharing framework of the town and State sharing the costs of public schools. The State created these semi-private charter schools in the name of “choice”, “innovation”, “achievement”, etc. And now the State has an inefficient private-public charter school funding system that costs much more for the State than funding the educational cost sharing (ECS) grant for students in any other type of traditional public school.

Summary

In sum, the State spends more on an average, or per pupil, basis on students in privately-managed charter schools compared to students in most other public school districts because the State assumes almost the whole cost of students attending charter schools. Because charters are not accountable to the local public, they do not receive funds from local taxpayers and school boards (except for special education and transportation). Traditional school districts get less per-pupil from the State on average compared to charter schools and have greater responsibilities in terms of educating students. Local taxpayers help fund the gap between what the State sends for their public schools and what they actually cost.

The State provides other grants to local public school districts in addition to the ECS grant because local public school districts have more responsibilities that charter schools do not. For example, public school districts are required to provide special education services and transportation, including for students at adjacent charter schools. Even accounting for these other grants in addition to the ECS grant, the State often still sends more funds on a per-pupil basis for privately-managed charter schools than most other types of local public schools. More skilled analysis of spending comparisons show that charter schools and local public schools spend comparable amounts on a per-pupil basis, which I will take up in a future post.

Despite these facts, the charter school lobby has done a very effective job at arguing that charter school students get less per-pupil funding. This claim ignores that facts that charter schools get more from on a per-pupil basis from the State, public schools have greater responsibilities to a broader group of students, and it hides the fact that charter schools do not get local funding from town and city taxpayers because they are not accountable to that local public.

So when somebody tries to sell you on the claim that charter schools get less funding per pupil from the State than public schools. Don’t buy it.

 

Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts?

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FRPM SCALE SCORE

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.)

Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015.

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.

Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015.

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

Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 9.42.55 PMSource: 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updated (with video): Got something to say about charter schools? NAACP Special Hearing on Charter Schools – New Haven, CT – Saturday, Dec. 3, 1 – 6 p.m.

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Update: The full video of the NAACP special hearing is here. (Source: W4 News, AccessTV.org) Also see parent letters regarding charter school issues to the NAACP Task Force on Quality Education.

In October, the NAACP (national conference) passed a resolution that called for a moratorium on privately-managed, publicly funded charter schools. The resolution was fairly moderate and listed the charter school policies that must change in order for any future NAACP support. This weekend, the NAACP will host the first in a series of national meetings about this resolution for a charter school moratorium.  The first meeting will be in New Haven, CT. (details below)

The fact that charter schools are racially segregated (mostly Black students), have punitive disciplinary policies, and siphon funds away from public schools to privately-managed charter schools were among the reasons for a charter school moratorium. (You can read more about why here.) In a press release, the NAACP stated:

We are calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools at least until such time as:
 (1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools
 (2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
 (3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and
 (4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

In addition to this resolution, the NAACP created a National Task Force for Quality Education. This Task Force will hold a special hearing (one of many around the country) focusing on this resolution for a charter school moratorium on Saturday, December 3, 2016, from 1 – 6 p.m. in New Haven, CT at the Omni Hotel, 155 Temple Street. (directions here)

Sign-up happens at 1 p.m. and the hearing begins at 2 p.m. 3 minute speaking limit per person. You can read the full details in the flyer below. The meeting appears to be open to the public.

NAACPspecialhearing

You can be sure, the charter school lobby that advocates for more privately-managed schools and funding for only those charter schools will be there.

Will public education advocates show up?

Want to learn more about charter schools in Connecticut? Here’s a little something to get started:

Why did the NAACP propose a moratorium on charter schools? Will the Connecticut NAACP support this moratorium on charter schools? (Updated)

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Update: The NAACP Board has approved the moratorium on new charter schools. Read the Tweet below and a statement from the NAACP here.

Screen Shot 2016-10-15 at 12.31.12 PM

Continue reading Why did the NAACP propose a moratorium on charter schools? Will the Connecticut NAACP support this moratorium on charter schools? (Updated)