Wealthy individuals with ties to charters schools, including many from outside of Connecticut, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the state’s recent elections, according to a new report compiled by two public policy advocacy organizations.
The leaders of Common Cause in Connecticut and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, which researched state campaign finance reports filed through Nov. 15, said six Connecticut political action committees that are supportive of charter schools raised nearly $513,000 since 2016. More than half of that money — 58 percent — came from out-of-state sources. Twenty-six donors contributed nearly all the money.
“I think that as independent expenditure spending becomes more specific, and I have to say, more sophisticated, they are looking for issues they think they can influence,” said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut. She said charter schools have become a big issue that interests wealthy donors living both inside and outside the state.
In Connecticut, 11 school districts currently host 24 publicly funded charter schools that are run independently of the local school district, according to a 2018 report from the state education commissioner. In total, 83 school districts, or 40 percent of all Connecticut school districts, have students enrolled in these schools, which may have a specialized focus. There’s been conflict between unionized teachers and charter school proponents about whether the schools have enough checks and balances and whether they siphon money from public neighborhood schools.
Outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been a proponent of expanding publicly funded charter schools.
“Charter schools provide families with options within the public school system, options that can be a real asset in targeting those students who have had trouble achieving success in other schools,” Malloy said in 2012, when he proposed legislation to increase the state’s role in supporting magnet schools, charter schools and other options.
Malloy, who leaves office in January, hasn’t changed his position on charter schools. He has agreed to sit on the board of directors of Democrats for Education Reform, a national political action committee that promotes charter schools, public school choice and other reforms.
The Common Cause and CCAG report notes there are strong ties between Democrats for Education Reform and the super PAC Change Course CT. That group raised about $140,000 in the 2018 election, spending much of it to support Democratic legislative candidates and Gov.-elect Ned Lamont, who has voiced concern about funding charter schools to the possible detriment of local schools.
The report examined mostly state legislative and some local races. It found much of the money was spent on direct mailers, consultants, polling and online advertising. In some cases, money was spent in non-competitive races, which the report presumes was to ultimately curry favor with the ultimate winner. State law prohibits candidates from coordinating with donors who make independent expenditures.