A failed amendment to the state legislature’s proposed budget that would have added funding for the Danbury Charter School has created a rift between legislators, with some arguing that the amendment went against the normal budget process and others saying they needed to support the Danbury community.
The proposed budget includes $9.7 million for three new charter schools: the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence, which was approved in 2018, Capital Preparatory School in Middletown and Edmonds Cofield Preparatory Academy for Young Men in New Haven, both of which were approved in March of this year.
“It’s important that we provide families, parents and children choices and opportunities in a variety of levels. It’s important that we understand that one way is not the only way,” said State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, one of the committee chairs.
But the original budget did not include funding for the Danbury Charter School, also approved in 2018.
State Rep. Rachel Chaleski, R-Danbury, proposed to amend the budget to add funding for the school.
Chaleski said the Danbury charter was approved in the same way that the other charters were, and that city officials, the Danbury Board of Education and many members of the community were in favor of the school.
“They have written letters, made phone calls, held rallies, provided hours and hours of testimony before us,” Chaleski said of the Danbury community members.
Hundreds of Danbury residents also gave testimony at a public hearing in February in support of the charter school. In a statement, Danbury Mayor Dean Esposito, a Republican, told CT Examiner that he was “incredibly disappointed” by the fact that the legislature had not voted to fund the charter school.
“To be clear, the funding for the Danbury Charter School was in the governor’s budget but was removed by a select group of politicians,” Esposito said.
Republicans and Democrats were split over the amendment, which failed 20-33. Many Democrats who cast their vote against funding the charter school said they did so “regretfully.”
Democratic co-chairs Osten and Walker said that they were in support of charter schools, but would not vote in support of the amendment because they felt it went against the normal process for approving the legislature’s budget.
Osten said she had asked Chaleski to withdraw her amendment.
“I did that because it’s in the best interest of us moving forward and getting things done. Because there’s too much at risk in this budget,” said Osten, who noted that there was $3 million in the budget to expand seats at existing charter schools, as well as additional funding to support students already attending those schools.
But Republicans pushed back against the argument over process, saying they felt it was a democratic way of operating to bring forward an amendment to the budget.
“There are three charter schools that are being funded in this budget, and one that is not. I want to know, what is the obstacle to that one?” State Rep. Tammy Nuccio, R-Tolland, said. “This here is a town that was promised a charter school. They’ve had funding in this budget or in budgets throughout the years, and it has continually been yanked.”
State Rep. Patrick Callahan, R-New Fairfield, who also represents part of Danbury, said he was in support of the charter school.
“I’m hearing a lot of talk from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, how they support charter schools. However, I’m going to sit here and say I support charter schools, and will show that with a yes vote on the amendment,” he said. “The Danbury Charter School has been passed over too many times.”
Several members of the state’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus also voted in favor of the charter school funding, including Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, Antonio Felipe, D-Bridgeport, Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, and Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury.
“I would like to see us move forward with the Danbury Charter School. Take politics out of it. Let’s put the people first,” Reyes said. “The very people that we’re trying to help are the very people that come before the [Black and Puerto Rican caucus] consistently, year in, year out. And I would be hypocritical if I didn’t support this.”
But other Democrats said they felt the legislature needed to do more to fix the funding for all public schools before funding a new charter.
“This is a result of decades of allowing a municipality to underfund their public schools and get away with it,” said State Rep. Jeffrey Currey, D-East Hartford, chair of the Education Committee. “We’re going to get to a point where we’re going to see a school in Danbury. That is inevitable. But we have to ensure that we are funding all of our public schools in a manner that doesn’t harm any of them.”
State Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said she didn’t support the charter school because she felt it was not in the best interest of the city.
“It is not easy to be in the position I have been in for the last four years, opposing a school. But I do it because I don’t think it’s the best educational move for Danbury,” Kushner said. “This is my view and it’s my view because I care about the children of Danbury and our education system, and I think we need to make it better.”
Chaleski disagreed with the Democrats’ objections. She also noted that the Open Choice program, which allows children in low-income districts to attend schools in suburban surrounding districts, has failed to get off the ground in Danbury.
“One size does not fit all. What works great for one child may not work for another child,” Chaleski said. “This is not about funding. The funding is already in the budget. And while I appreciate the process and the comments about the process, the process hasn’t worked for Danbury in six years.”