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Rebalancing Charter Authorization; Local Masking Decisions Underscore Inequity; and Mandating FAFSA

Rebalancing the Charter Authorization Process

Over the weekend, the News-Times covered the ongoing issue of overcrowding in the Danbury Public Schools. According to the article, Danbury High School is at a breaking point, with almost 3,400 students–which is beyond building capacity. Forecasting future population growth, the principal says the school may eventually have to consider "serious options" to keep up, like alternating schedules. Danbury school board chair Rachel Chaleski supports opening a public charter school in the district, which would eventually serve up to 770 students.

But the Danbury charter is a victim of an unbalanced charter authorization process in Connecticut that puts too much emphasis on bureaucracy and bias–and too little on meeting the needs of families. (Click here for a joint one-pager explaining this process and how to fix it, from the Connecticut Charter Schools Association and ERN CT.) There’s much-too-much red tape and politics at play when a community like Danbury needs a new school ASAP. After all, the State Board of Education authorized opening a Danbury charter all the way back in 2018, but the school has still never received state funding to open.

This legislative session, ERN CT is joining other advocates to call for a policy fix. S.B. 229 would establish an account in the General Fund that is specifically dedicated to authorizing and funding charter schools once they’ve been vetted and approved by the State Board of Education. Tune in Friday for a public hearing on this topic, and several others, before the legislature’s Education Committee.

On School Masking, Local Decision-Making Underscores Inequity

The statewide school masking mandate ended this week. CT Insider's coverage points out that the shift in Connecticut is on-trend nationally; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new guidance limiting the need for masking–and giving more emphasis to each community’s hospital capacity, rather than to the outright number of reported cases. On Monday, The New York Times reported that California, Oregon, and Washington will be newly lifting their school masking mandates, following in the footsteps of states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Connecticut’s state departments of education and public health still retain the authority to require masking in schools, but they've given discretion to local school boards for now. The Hartford Courant has a worthwhile read that identifies how the varied responses by districts underscore ongoing disparities in the state: while most suburban and rural districts have been able to drop their face coverings, school masking has tended to continue in the larger cities. It’s not the first (or unfortunately last) time we’ll observe that when it comes to education policy, local control exacerbates inequities.

Mandating FAFSA Makes College More Accessible

This year’s legislature will once again consider a new high school graduation requirement designed to increase college accessibility: completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Senator Will Haskell and the CT Senate Democrats first made this part of their agenda back in 2020–and ERN CT was keen to support it then, as now. (Throwback to Amy’s 2020 testimony before the Higher Ed Committee.)

National research shows that FAFSA completion dramatically increases the likelihood of college enrollment for students in the lowest economic quintile. And when Louisiana implemented a mandate, its FAFSA completion rate jumped from 56% to 82.6% between 2015-2019. That creates opportunities for high school grads. The legislation being considered here in Connecticut can be found in Section 36 of HB 5038. If passed, it will require students in each graduating class, starting in 2025, to complete the FAFSA, unless they get waivers.

Just for fun, here’s an interactive FAFSA Tracker from the National College Attainment Network. It annually ranks each state’s rate of FAFSA completion. CT is currently in 5th place. Let's get it to 1st!

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