By Linda Lambeck

By now, the state was supposed to have a small army of 25 Commissioner’s Network Schools, all learning how to student achievement with extra funding and expert advise.

If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new biennium budget plan, unveiled Wednesday, is any indication the army has come to a halt.

The governor’s proposed budget would cut $4.7 million from the Network bringing it from $17.5 million to $12.8 million. Still Kelly Donnelly, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education, insists the commitment remains.

The budget contemplates that several schools will graduate out of the Network. It does allow for new schools to enter the Network provided that it remains within the available appropriations and stays within the statutory cap, she said.

Bridgeport has three schools in the Network, including Curiale, which is coming to the end of its third year. Dunbar, which had a disastrous end to its first year in the Network after it was learned it was being run by an outfit led by a convicted felon who lied about his credentials, is now in its second year with a new improvement coach: Cooperative Education Services. And this year, Marin School joined the network and thus far, school suspensions at the school have increased dramatically.

Ben Barnes, the state’s budget director, also insisted the cut does not signal that the governor, which touted the school improvement initiative two years ago, has lost interest in the effort.

Priority district grants, which fund initiatives in the state’s lowest performing schools, would also be cut by $6.5 million in the governor’s budget proposal.

Charter schools get a boost, by $12 million next year and another $9.9 million in the second year of the biennium, allowing both new charter schools in Bridgeport and Stamford to open as plan.

If you thought that would make charter school supporters satisfied, you would be mistaken.

This from Kiesha Council, the parent of three children who attend Achievement First Charter School in Bridgeport, and a member of something called the Coalition for Every Child:

“With more than $20 million dollars going to the expansion of charter schools, it’s clear that the Governor understands just how important it is to have great schools for every child. However, the demand for these school vastly exceeds their availability, and this budget only takes us one small step toward fixing that problem.  The increase in funding accounts for only 1 percent of the budget at a time when spending is increasing by more than three percent.  More parents need to have the same choices that I had because great schools can make the difference.”

It seems the new charter school money will allow for new schools and spaces, but not additional per pupil funding.

Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform also seemed less than thrilled with the overall plan. In his view the governor’s budget does not seem to make education a top priority. He called it disappointing.

“If we are going to improve the economy in the long run, we need to make a long-term invest in education policies that will narrow the achievement gap.” Villar said.


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