Education Reform

        How are our public schools doing? The answer can vary based on where your school is from cities, to suburbs to small towns. Suburban and small town schools are doing better than in our cities. Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s decision in September, 2016, ordered the state to come up with a new funding mechanism to fairly educate its poorest children. He also took issue with a public school teacher evaluation system that gives almost all teachers a passing grade, thereby making it difficult for good teachers to shine and for poor teachers to be dismissed.

        This decision and subsequent appeal come at a time of financial challenges for the entire state with people leaving the state as the state raises its taxes, fees and “revenue streams,” which is another word for taxes. In a recent budget proposal in August, 2017, the City of Bridgeport would get $800,000 more in school aid versus last year but would lose $4,400,000 in other municipal aid. So this is how funding for school is “increased.” It is a challenging environment with large budget deficits. Hoping to solve the educational imbalance in our city schools through increased budgets may not be a reasonable expectation. Instead, educational reform may better be focused on giving choices to children in our cities, towns and suburbs.

        At present we have 24 charter schools in Connecticut. Yet there are just under 7,000 students on wait lists across the state to enter a charter school. Charter schools operate for the same or less per student than the typical public school.

        A recent study has shown that students who graduated from charter schools are beginning to graduate from college at a higher rate than those who stayed in the traditional public school.

        “Graduates from the top charter networks-those with enough high school alumni to measure college success accurately-earn four-year degrees at rates that range up to five times as high as their counterparts in traditional public schools. These are low-income, minority students from cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Newark, N.J.” “Charter Grads Get a Leg Up In College,” Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2017, p. A15.

        Then there was a recent study that showed charter school students in New York City academically outperforming all other New York City public school students except for the public magnet schools with highly selective admissions requirements. So here we are in Connecticut with only 2 percent of all public school students in the state attending charter schools. New Orleans has approximately 79% of its public students in charter schools; Detroit, 51%; District of Columbia, 43%; Flint, Michigan, 36%; and, Gary, Indiana at 35%. Whether either of these percentages are five points more or less, does not diminish the potential of charter schools. If there are 7,000 students in Connecticut waiting to go to a charter school, then it is an obligation of the elected officials to see that there are 7,000 new charter school seats for them to sit in and learn from.

        Charter schools are not just for urban areas. Well-to-do suburban schools could also benefit from inviting charger schools into their buildings to teach cooperatively but also to encourage competition within the district. For example, Greenwich High School has five different houses. Could not one or two houses be run as a charter and share facilities and even classes. Perhaps one house would accentuate traditional humanities such as languages, philosophy, Latin, sciences, geography and history?

        Charter schools do not come in just one size or shape. Their motivation is to be independent to make the teachers and administrators accountable for the performance of their students. There can be charter schools that are all male or all female. In some city neighborhoods, there is an absence of fathers in the lives of their sons and daughters. Some parents might feel that their sons would benefit from going to an all male school or a school with many more male teachers? Some parents might feel that their daughters would benefit from going to an all female school. That is for the community to decide, not for Hartford or Washington, D.C. If the laws of the State of Connecticut prohibit an all male or all female public school, then let us change the law if it can help in the education of our children.

        Isn’t it interesting that some charters use uniforms for their students? Perhaps that reduces the feeling of competition between those who can afford certain types of clothes versus those who cannot? It may support an environment of equality, where you will excel through personal performance and not what you wear? Perhaps a charter school would emphasize Latin starting with the third grade? Latin is not only a study of language it is a study of logic to memorize how the nouns, adjectives, verbs and tenses work together. It may emphasize a study of classics? And Latin certainly gives any user a leg up when it comes to vocabulary and a mastery of the English language. But this is for parents and guardians to decide. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to send your child there. This is giving the parents and guardians a choice and a voice.

        Beyond charters is a topic that is anathema for many, as they see it crossing over the secular divide and providing government support for religious educational institutions such as the Catholic schools or Greek Orthodox schools or other religious schools that support the Constitutions of the State of Connecticut and America and the rule of law. This option is vouchers. A voucher is a coupon that a family could give to a religious school to help with their child’s tuition to attend the school. For example, if the average cost of a public school student in the locality is $12,000 per year, a voucher may only be worth $6,000 for the school year. That means the locality would not have to pay to educate the student that uses a voucher to go to another school. This could represent an additional $6,000 that goes to the students that remain in the locality’s school. Rules could be instituted that vouchers would only be available to children from households with less than a certain amount of income. The child’s family or relatives would have to come up with the resources to make up the difference between their child’s voucher and the school’s actual tuition. But that is their choice and the school’s choice. It should be easy to receive testimony from students who have attended a private school, that was not even their religion, and the education that they received. Although this may be attractive to some residents from socio-economically challenged neighborhoods, opponents may reject it as public support for a religious school.

        Our children should have more educational options available to them. Consider the movie from 2010, Waiting for Superman. That movie went through the high hopes that parents have for their children, whether it be in cities, suburbs or small towns. But some Connecticut residents have only one choice and that choice may the local school which may be the fiefdom of the teacher union or entrenched education bureaucracy? How can we improve the mix of educational options for our children? Let us expand charters and consider vouchers for everyone across the state.


                                                                        Peter Thalheim,

                                                                        Republican Candidate for Governor, 2018


                                                                        Maj. Ret, USAR, JAG Corps