Tabling a bad idea for Connecticut charters

The Connecticut General Assembly wisely tabled an aberrant lottery scheme for charter schools when it passed a sweeping education reform bill this week. An earlier version of the legislation that emerged from a caucus between Democratic leaders and union officials would have upended school choice by building enrollment at new charter schools with the names of students drawn from the district. Students would have been forced to opt out of the charter if they preferred their district school.

Charter schools are different by design and they develop their strength when parents, students, and teachers buy into their mission.

Lawmakers now want to study the “feasibility” of such an opt-out plan before rushing into it and ordered the state Department of Education to report back with recommendations in two years. This might be an agile way to retreat from a bad idea, but legislators should have killed the plan before committing state resources to its study.

Charter schools are different by design and they develop their strength when parents, students, and teachers buy into their mission. An opt-out lottery would tailor charters into one-size that tries to meet the needs of every student and turn them into the first schools of assignment. A New Jersey lawmaker who hatched a similar scheme last year realized the lottery would lead to chaos in both district and charter school offices that tried to plan for the school year. He’s no longer pursuing the bill. Connecticut shouldn’t be either.

The legislation the Connecticut General Assembly passed this week already prescribes the mission of two of the next four charter schools approved: They must focus on the needs of English language learners. The relatively few charter schools in Connecticut – just eighteen statewide – were already prepared to work with district schools on ways to better meet the needs of underrepresented students. Cooperation was in their interest. The bill’s mandate unfortunately obviates the need for partnership.

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