The state should have done its homework before allowing the charter organization known as FUSE to take over low-performing public schools, a Republican gubernatorial candidate said during a New Haven campaign stop.
“The lack of vetting is very disturbing,” said state. Sen. John McKinney, one of two Republican candidates seeking to unseat Gov. Dannel Malloy this fall. McKinney faces Tom Foley in an Aug. 12 Republican primary.
On a campaign stroll up Chapel Street Thursday, McKinney weighed in on an unfolding scandal concerning Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), which runs the Jumoke Academy charter schools in Hartford. The scandal that has presented an “important moment” for the state’s charter school movement—and for the governor’s race, where Malloy faces a third-party candidate, Jonathan Pelto, who has railed against his support of charters.
McKinney questioned how the state let FUSE take on state-funded contracts to run Bridgeport and Hartford turnaround schools, as well as a new charter school that’s set to open in the fall in New Haven—without checking into the criminal background and credentials of Michael Sharpe, FUSE’s CEO since 2003.
Sharpe resigned as CEO last week after the Hartford Courant revealed he had lied for years about having a doctorate in education, and hadn’t told state or local officials that he served federal prison time for embezzling public money and had been convicted of state forgery charges some 30 years ago. Amid those revelations—as well as concerns that FUSE wasn’t delivering on its promises as the manager of the state-funded Milner School turnaround in Hartford—FUSE lost its contracts to run Milner, as well as the Booker T. Washington Academy, a charter school it was supposed to help open in September in New Haven. FUSE now risks losing its contract to run Bridgeport’s Dunbar School as well.
McKinney said the state needs to do a better job at vetting charter management companies.
“Charter schools have been in Connecticut since 1997 and in that time Senator McKinney has said absolutely nothing about their administration. What’s changed? Now he’s running for governor. Once again, Senator McKinney is showing his lack of credibility,” replied Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman.
Earlier in the week, Malloy’s education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, said Jumoke Academy has a strong record of academic performance. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools, which operate with state funding outside traditional districts’ supervision, must return to the state every three to five years for a charter renewal. During the renewal process, charter schools are supposed to show their record of student achievement, school climate and discipline, and ongoing community support.
McKinney couched himself as a “supporter of charter schools,” but he qualified that support: “Financial support for charters cannot be taken away from traditional schools,” he said. He said charter schools serve a historical role as “incubators” for new ideas in education, but should not replace traditional public schools.
McKinney has previously called for Pryor to resign because of the way Pryor has brought in Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluations.
McKinney did not take a position on what should be done about the school FUSE was supposed to help open in New Haven this fall,
Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA), which is being spearheaded by Pastor Eldren Morrison of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church.
BTWA hired FUSE to recruit students, hire staff, design the curriculum, and run the day-to-day operations of the school, which was supposed to open this September with $2.5 million in state money and 225 students.
The BTWA board has been scrambling to put together a new plan to be able to open the school without FUSE. Pryor announced he expected a revised proposal by “mid-week” of this week; the state subsequently granted BTWA an extension until next week, according to BTWA’s lawyer, Andrew Crumbie.
Pryor said earlier this week that the school may have to delay its opening date, or shrink its size, given that there are less than two months to put the new plan together. However, he said he remains open to reviewing whatever BTWA proposes.