Without Delegation Support, Danbury’s $25 Million and Charter Schools in Doubt

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DANBURY — A $25 million donation hangs in the balance if Danbury Prospect Charter School remains unfunded by state legislators for a third consecutive year. 

In 2018, two Charter Schools — Danbury Prospect and Norwalk Excellence — were granted an initial certificate of approval by the Department of Education, but the schools cannot open until the legislature agrees to provide funding.

In February, an anonymous donor pledged $25 million to the construction of Danbury Prospect contingent on annual funding from the state. So far, the chances don’t look good. 

“Funding for the charter school was not included in Governor Lamont’s budget proposal,” said Max Reiss, director of communications for the Office of the Governor. “The administration has been reviewing the project.” 

Raised Bill 6616, An Act Concerning the Process for Funding a New Charter School, offers one possible solution for the two Danbury schools left in limbo. 

The bill would create an account within the General Fund. When a charter school – like Danbury Prospect – is awarded an initial certificate, the state commissioner of education would be able to draw money from the account to provide a grant for the next school year as annual funding from the legislature awaits approval. 

The bill would also prevent funds originally designated for charter schools from being swept or spent for other purposes.

But without the support of Danbury’s state delegation, funding for the charter schools in any form is unlikely to move forward.

“Legislators don’t like to cross those geographic lines,” said Ruben Felipe, the executive director of the New England Charter Schools Association.

All seven members of the Danbury delegation either could not be reached or declined to comment for this story. 

Despite a lack of legislative support, Danbury Prospect has garnered significant support from some in the community, as the Danbury Public Schools cope with overcrowding, and struggle to support an influx of students, many from low-income and Hispanic families.

The school district is classified as an Alliance district, ranking in the bottom 33 school districts in the state, according to Department of Education data, with a student population that includes 63 percent minority students, and a majority that are Hispanic.

In the past five years, the Danbury student population has grown by more than 5 percent, in contrast to the statewide decline in enrollments of more than a decade. This growth does not appear to be slowing down, and leaves the district with little capacity to provide adequately for every student.

“I joined the movement to bring a charter school to Danbury after I saw firsthand the impact the lack of Latino teachers and the overcrowding of our schools had on my own daughter,” said Maria Matos, a Danbury resident and parent in public testimony before the legislature’s Education Committee. “It is not fair to deny an entire community the school we so desperately need.”

Danbury is one of the few large, urban, Alliance Districts not to host a charter school. New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport and Stamford all offer at least one.

But even if the legislature passes Bill 6616, there is no guarantee the school would receive funding for the following year, warned officials at the Department of Education.

“If the Legislature chooses to create this new non-lapsing account, as drafted, we do not believe this bill ensures the legislative funding commitment to the charter school going forward beyond the first fiscal year, which is problematic,” said Charlene Russell-Tucker, Acting Commissioner of Education.