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by Beth Bruno, Ed.M., M.A.
Charter Schools in Connecticut
A bill passed by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1997 introduced a spirit of entrepreneurship into the CT public schools in the form of 17 charter schools, each with distinct approaches to teaching, learning and governance.
A charter school is a nonsectarian public school that operates independently from local or regional boards of education according to the provisions of its charter, subject to the approval of the CT State Department of Education. Like magnet schools, charter schools are schools of choice, often organized around a particular theme or attraction.
Kinds of Charter Schools
There are two kinds of charter schools in Connecticut: state charters and local charters. The purposes of each are to improve academic achievement, provide a vehicle for educational innovation, contribute to reduced racial, ethnic and economic isolation, and offer parents and students an alternative to the public schools in their district. Enrollment in a charter school is open to all students from its designated community and grade levels. If more students enroll than there are seats, a lottery must be held.
Charter schools receive funding from the state or their local school district, at an annual per pupil rate of $6500. These schools can also apply for grant monies from state, local and private sources. To help defray capital costs, the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority created a fund for charter schools that offers loans up to $150,000 at 5.9% interest. Local boards of education provide transportation for students attending a charter school in their district. Students in need of special education are also eligible to attend charter schools and to receive support services there. Even though these schools have the flexibility to choose a curriculum that meets the unique goals established in their charter, students are not exempt from meeting state requirements in all academic and enrichment areas. All students are still expected to take the Connecticut Mastery Tests. Teachers working at charter schools are also granted flexibility with respect to certification and collective bargaining status.
Since the fall of 1997, some of the original charter schools have closed and others have opened. When I visited the Bridge Academy, a charter school in Bridgeport, I asked two students to tell me what they think about their new school. Students from other charters wrote to me about their reactions.
Giovanni, a sophomore, who enrolled as an entering freshman, told me, "It's different from the high school I would have gone to, because it's so much smaller. With only 10-15 students per class, we get a lot more out of learning than I did in classes of 30-35 at my old school. Here everybody is like a big family. Everybody looks out for everybody else, from the teachers to the students, right down to the janitor. About 150 kids go to this school. We are all taking college prep and have a lot of homework. They teach us how to study, how to take notes and how to build our minds. When we were studying black history, we performed an African American play.
"Also we do community service. I come from Bridgeport and want to prove there are good youths here. I worked on a March of Dimes fundraiser for disabled babies. We put on a basketball tournament and raised $400 for them."
Crystal, a freshman at Bridge Academy, entered in the fall of 1998. She commented, "I came from a big school where teachers didn't have time for the kids. It was crowded, and there was less time given to each class. Here the classes are small and more personal. I also like all the after school activities here, like dance classes and a drama club for minorities. I usually ride school or city buses to and from school, but if I want to stay late and don't have a ride, one of the teachers gives me a ride home."
Alan, a student from Brooklawn Academy, serving students from Bridgeport and Fairfield, had this to say about his school. "Brooklawn Academy is a great place for us to learn and work in a different environment. It allows us to access the Internet and thus use electronic resources, while still trying to keep things simple. We take kids from two very different communities, one suburban and the other urban, and intertwine the two very successfully. This allows us to get a glimpse of our future work and learning environment. Brooklawn has great teachers and great goals for the future. The teachers have great ideas and put learning in a new light; they make it fun."
As with any new venture, charter schools are struggling with growing pains related to issues large and small. Yet, so far, most are enjoying their freedom, waiting lists of students and strong support from families. Each charter has an initial life span of five years. During that time the school must meet its educational goals for students or the state will revoke its charter. The price for autonomy is accountability to our children, as it should be.
In the 2000-2001 academic year, approximately 2000 students attend Connecticut's 16 charter schools, which are located in both urban and suburban districts. The average number of students per school is 150 and 12 of the schools have waiting lists.
Do you have charter schools in your state? How are they working out?
For more information about charter schools in CT and other parts of the country, go to the following Internet sites:
U.S. Charter Schools: Status report:
CT charter schools:
Connecticut State Department of Education: Charter Schools:
Beth Bruno firstname.lastname@example.org
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