State Announces New Policies for Charter School Oversight

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    Connecticut is changing the way charter schools are supervised amid a state investigation into the charter school management group that terminated its CEO earlier this summer.

    In July, State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor called for an investigation into Hartford’s Jumoke Academy and its parent organization, Family Urban Schools of Excellence, after the termination of FUSE CEO Michael Sharpe, who had referred to himself as “Dr. Sharpe” for years despite not yet having obtained his Ph.D.

    Several other school systems have since terminated their partnerships with FUSE, including Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, which was set to open a new charter school in conjunction with FUSE next month.

    Now the state Department of Education is implementing new policies to govern charter school oversight. The goal is to “provide Connecticut’s taxpayers, educators, and thousands of charter school families with greater confidence that charter schools will operate according to high standards of excellence, organizational governance, ability, and transparency,” according to a release from the department on Monday.

    Among the new policies are mandatory background checks for all school employees, managers and boards of directors; clearer expectations of student performance; and a greater exchange of information with the public, requiring contracts between schools and management groups to be available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act when the management group acts as a public agency or the contract exceeds $2.5 million.

    Some schools will also need to submit annual performance reports, and the state’s charter school office will play a bigger part in conducting random yearly audits, the release says.

    Eighteen charter schools currently operate in Connecticut, serving more than 7,000 children statewide, according to the Department of Education.

    Jeremiah Grace, Connecticut State Director of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, said in a statement Monday that "the vast majority [of] Connecticut's charters are playing by the rules, providing good schools, giving parents choice and strengthening their communities."

    Grace said the schools "don't need any more red tape" but will comply with the new regulations.