Put Children Before Politics and Fund the Danbury Charter School

Rachel Chaleski (Courtesy of Rachel Chaleski)


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To the Editor:

I want to take you behind-the-scenes of how politics is hindering educational opportunities for Danbury students. My Democratic counterparts of the Danbury delegation, who enjoy the power of the majority in the legislature, have again put politics over making a difference in the lives of our children. 

The Danbury Charter School remains unfunded, five years after gaining approval from the state Department of Education to operate. I submitted a proposal this session requesting $1.375 million to fund the Danbury Charter School and wrote to members of the Appropriations Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee expressing support for the long overdue allocation. The group also received a letter claiming to be from representatives for 4/5ths of Danbury residents. In actuality, the undersigned represent less than 2/3rds of Danbury. Danbury’s 138th district is the largest subdivision of Danbury registered voters.

This opposition letter also purports that Danbury residents do not want this education option, but that’s not accurate either and goes to show what is inherently wrong with the process. During its 2018 approval, at multiple opportunities, community stakeholders showed overwhelming support and need for a charter school as required by its application. 

I implore my colleagues to support the families who have come before the legislature year after year to advocate for this option and for the opportunity to choose what is best for their children. 

Despite money being included in the 2023 state budget for Danbury and other charters, funding was pulled before the proposal made it to the House and Senate for further consideration. Danbury remains the only large city in Connecticut without a charter school, and home to the largest high school in the state, with nearly 4,000 students currently enrolled.

The primary argument against funding the Danbury Charter School is that the public school system would “lose” $10 million in ECS funding over the next six years. This “loss” is not made up of funds that would be in the district’s possession in the first place and is based on a stagnant student population.  Furthermore, this figure is now woefully outdated due to ECS formula revisions.

That figure comes from a 2022 Office of Fiscal Analysis report, when the ECS hold municipalities harmless provision for Alliance Districts was different than what it is now. From a 2024 perspective, the impact shown in the report to Danbury in FY 29 and FY 30 is not possible.

In 2022, as in 2024, OFA notes that Danbury’s ECS grant was underfunded. However, at the time, it (like all underfunded towns) was scheduled to be fully funded in FY 28, not FY 26. Under the new ECS formula’s accelerated phase in, Danbury’s fully funded projected grant increase would decrease by approximately $1.1 million with the ramp up of charter school enrollment, which still reflects an overall increase and does not take into account any new students to the district. Neither the 2022 report nor the 2024 stats consider Danbury’s steady enrollment increases, which would make the charter school a wash in terms of adjusted ECS dollars.

Under current law, if Danbury’s enrollment were to decline after full ECS funding is reached, Danbury would not see a decrease in ECS funding because Alliance Districts’ ECS grants do not decrease.

The charter school could have opened in the fall of 2019, and if opened back then, would today be serving 550 students in our downtown area.

The City of Danbury is planning for a satellite high school, known as the Danbury Career Academy, to accommodate 1,400 students and address overcrowding at Danbury High School. The Career Academy was supposed to open this fall, next year’s planned opening has been delayed and it could be delayed further because of unforeseen conditions and construction bids that came back in excess of estimates. City officials requested $22.35 million in state reimbursement for this project, but the Democrat delegation members only requested half that amount last session and left us with only a promise to continue to work on securing remaining funding this year.

The years-long struggle to open a charter school to disadvantaged students has left our Danbury community divided and bruised.  The brave residents who spoke up for this option have been continually ignored and defied by those who are supposed to represent and protect them.  Yet, our community has persevered because our children are worth the fight. 

A one-size does not fit all. Some students would be better served in a smaller environment to compliment the career academy model but cannot afford a high-cost alternative such as private school, or to look beyond Danbury. 

Our community deserves better than the political math and fear mongering against educational opportunities that have had success in all other large cities. Ultimately, this is all about kids and to move the needle of academic success. 

State Rep. Rachel Chaleski (R-Danbury) is a member of the Committees on Education, Appropriations, and Transportation. She previously served as Chair of the Danbury Board of Education. Her letter to the subcommittee can be viewed at RepChaleski.com.