Charter school supporters plan a march through downtown Danbury to demand state funding | SehndeWeb April 26, 2022 by eboudaoud And now they are walking. Frustrated that funding for a charter school in Danbury continues to be cut from the state budget, supporters plan to take to Main Street on Sunday afternoon to show the faces of people clamoring for the school to open . “We wanted to show that these aren’t just shadow people,” said Jose Lucas Pimentel, CEO of Latinos of Educational Advocacy, or LEAD, an organization that argues school is needed to provide an alternative to schools. Danbury’s growing public, especially for Black and Brown students. “It’s a real community.” The march begins at 1 p.m. Sunday at 358 Main Street, where LEAD is located. The group will head to City Hall for speeches at 1:30 p.m. LEAD decided to organize the march after Democratic members of the Danbury state legislative delegation lobbied to have funding for the charter school removed from an early state budget proposal of the month, said Pimentel. State Representative Ken Gucker, D-Danbury, said he and other members of the Danbury delegation were surprised to learn that funding for the charter school had been included in a budget proposal by lawmakers who do not represent Danbury after the governor opted out of his original proposal. “It was done behind the scenes without any transparency,” he said. “Then the Danbury delegation discovered this. We were upset because we had never even been consulted. No one from (the) Credits (Committee) spoke to us. It was a backroom deal. Gucker and other members of the delegation argue that attention and funding should be given to public schools, including the proposed $164 million career academy. State Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, reiterated her support for the career academy in a statement, while several other members of the delegation could not be reached for comment Monday. State Representative Patrick Callahan, R-New Fairfield, said he supports the charter school. “It’s part of providing different opportunities for our kids, and I’m definitely a supporter,” he said. Estimates from the Office of Fiscal Analysis show Danbury would lose $10.3 million in state education cost-sharing funds between fiscal year 2024 and fiscal year 2030 if the school were to open. This is based on removing 110 Danbury pupils from the education cost-sharing formula each year until the school is fully open. Losses would be minimal in the first few years, then rise to nearly $3.6 million annually in fiscal year 2030, when all 770 students were enrolled, according to the analysis. The analysis used student enrollment data from October 2021 and estimated grant amounts under current law. It did not take into account other growths or changes in registrations. However, supporters of the charter school noted that enrollment at Danbury was growing, so the public school district would receive more state funding as new students were added. Historically, the state has not fully funded its education cost-sharing formula. Seek State Approval The state Board of Education must again review and approve the charter school proposal. Until then, Gucker said state funding should not be considered. “I’m not going to fund something that doesn’t exist,” Gucker said. In October 2018, the State Board of Education approved Brooklyn, NY-based Prospect Charter Schools to open a charter school in Danbury, pending state funding. But funding was never approved, and the planning team behind the charter school offered to go with a new operator. The public school board must approve this latest plan, but the committee is still working on the application and hopes to submit it by the end of the school year. “We are in the process of reviewing our original application, which spanned hundreds of pages, and ensuring that we are addressing any changes or issues that may be of concern,” said Planning Team Chair Stephen Tracy. The new operator, called Elevate, is awaiting IRS approval of its nonprofit status, although it has already been incorporated as a nonprofit, he said. The group doesn’t know if the state will challenge that, but doesn’t expect it to be a problem, he said. Charter school proponents have also argued for the process to change, so that charter schools are funded when approved. push for school LEAD was born out of the fight for the charter school and, since winning financial support and opening a center in downtown Danbury last year, has been striving to become a nationwide organization the state, in part to gain Connecticut-wide support for the charter school. The organization has 4,880 members, of which about 4,000 are from Danbury and about 1,500 people are considered active members, Pimentel said. LEAD expects between 300 and 500 people to march on Sunday. This includes supporters from other communities, such as Bridgeport, Torrington, Waterbury and Norwich. LEAD plans to register people to vote at the event and in the future. “We know it’s going to be huge,” said Maria Matos, special programs manager for LEAD. “They are very excited.” If it won funding, the charter school would open in the fall of 2023 to 110 sixth graders. A note would be added each year to reach 770 students from sixth to final year. The school would offer an International Baccalaureate program. “The reason we are now seeking financial support is, as you can imagine, that staffing, organizing and starting a school is not easy,” Tracy said. “We have an obligation to the families who support us to be well organized and prepared.” The goal is for the school to open at 358 Main St., the property where LEAD is headquartered. For at least the first year, the 110 students would be housed in temporary space, also downtown, as the school is built, Tracy said. A philanthropic gift of $25 million is available to build the school. The idea is that families can walk to school from the city centre. The march, starting at the LEAD building and heading towards City Hall, will show families what it would be like, Matos said. LEAD understands the obstacles he faces, but Pimentel said he hopes for a “Hail Mary” in the final days of the legislative session, which ends May 4. “I’ve always believed in miracles,” he says.