Following the CT Charter Money

Up in Connecticut, they are slogging it out over the future of charter schools. As part of education reforms signed into law in 2012, the most significant school reforms legislated in the state’s history, lawmakers pledged to both increase the number of charter schools and available charter seats. At the same time, they put in place a plan to increase the per-pupil payment to said charter schools, bringing financial commitments closer to the per-pupil costs of the traditional public schools in those cities.

The financial realities set in. In 2014 and again this year, Connecticut has experienced lighter state coffers than anticipated. Reductions in revenue have meant cuts to budgets. And charter schools have been on the block for such cuts.

It is important to note, though, that when the ed reform law was originally passed, there were only 17 charter schools in 10 cities across the state. Those schools educated less than 2 percent of the total K-12 public school population.

Anyone who has followed the education reform battles knows that charter school advocates do not go quietly when their programs are slated for cuts or even freezes. And Connecticut is no different. In today’s Hartford Courant, ed reporter extraordinaire Kathleen Megan, along with Matthew Kauffman, has a great piece that looks at where the charter school funding comes from. In a small state like Connecticut, when millions of dollars is spent to advocate for less than 2 percent of the public school population, following the dollars becomes an important and necessary exercise.

Full disclosure, Eduflack served as CEO of one of the groups that Megan and the Courant write about. In fact, I led the ed reform org when we helped pass those major gains for reforms and overall school improvement. And I led both a 501c3 and a 501c4 in the process.

Those who know Eduflack know I’m never one to shy away from a question. So while it seems the CT ed reform community doesn’t want to talk about the “follow the money” storyline, I was happy to oblige.

Patrick Riccards, a former chief executive officer for ConnCAN, said that when he was there — from 2011 through 2012 — most of the funding came in equal parts from board members, the hedge fund community, and local foundations.

He said that in general many of the same names turn up as contributors to several education reform groups.

For many of those givers with an entrepreneurial leaning, Riccards said, it is far more appealing to fund new schools — charters — than to try to fix failing schools when there is so little agreement about how best to do that.

Riccards, who is now chief communications and strategy officer for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, said he is convinced that ConnCAN’s donors were “true believers” who were donating funds because they believed they were improving education for children. “They don’t make any money off the schools,” Riccards said. “It’s one of those great urban legends. There’s no grand conspiracy.”

A fair assessment? Read the piece. Check it out. Let me know.
UPDATE: For more on the topic, also check out this piece from the Connecticut Mirror. 

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