HARTFORD, Conn. – Freedom of choice is one of the hallmarks of our great country.

our Kids deserveWe can choose where to live, where to work and how to spend our time and money.

But the Hartford Federation of Teachers doesn’t believe freedom should extend to public education. The union would like all K-12 students who can’t afford private school tuition to be forced to stay in traditional public schools.

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That’s why the union lobbied the Hartford school board to reject a proposal by Achievement First Public Charter Schools to expand its operations by building a second elementary school in the city.

But the board wisely voted 5-2 to ignore the union and approved the expansion at a special meeting in August.

This week the district announced another positive step. It will close Clark Elementary – a traditional K-8 school that’s been plagued with academic, attendance, and enrollment problems – and place the new Achievement First in the building within a few years, according to the Hartford Courant.

It seems as though school boards around the nation are finally starting to get the idea. If charter schools, and other forms of choice schools, were not meeting the needs of families, students would not attend them. Parents should have the right to various educational options for their children, and the teachers union’s bank account should not be their concern.

Hartford union leaders would have us believe that they objected to the Achievement First expansion because the charter school is fundamentally flawed.

The union president, Andrea Johnson, accused Achievement First of manipulating its lottery system to only attract the highest achieving students. She claimed the school discriminates against special needs students and has an unusually high suspension rates.

And in her most honest moment, Johnson accused the school board of diverting revenue from traditional public schools to Achievement First.

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That’s really the bottom line for the union.

Union leaders don’t want to keep students around to give them a great education. They want to keep them around so the district will get the state aid attached to each of them, and more union teachers will retain their jobs and continue to pay union dues.

That has nothing to do with the best interests of students.

One spot for every three applications

In a way Johnson has a point. Times are tough and there’s only so much education money to go around. But that doesn’t mean the traditional public school district should have first dibs on government education dollars. That money should follow the students to whatever school they choose to attend.

If a significant number of students take their dollars somewhere else, that should tell the traditional schools that something is wrong with their operations and parents and students feel underserved.

They obviously don’t feel underserved at Achievement First Hartford Academy, which reportedly has a long waiting list.

Officials at the charter school acknowledge they have some problems. They have responded by lowering suspension rates by 64 percent as well as meeting with parents of special needs students to address their concerns and vowing to be proactive in improving services, according to the Courant.

They reject Johnson’s claim that Achievement First could somehow skew the lottery process,  since it’s completely managed by the Hartford school district.

In a recent editorial, Johnson argues that all of Achievement First’s issues should have been addressed in full before the school board voted to allow expansion.

She also encouraged the Hartford City Council to reject an education budget in the spring that will allow for the gradual expansion of Achievement First.

“The Hartford Board of Education’s recent vote to expand a charter outfit with a troubling disciplinary and enrollment record was ill-advised and premature,” Johnson wrote in the Courant. “Shame on the majority who failed to hold Achievement First accountable for well-documented problems at the Hartford Academy before promising them more of the city’s scarce education resources.

“The good news is that although the school board failed to do its homework, there is time for the city council to do its. Council members should waste no time preparing for an important test next spring. That is when they will be asked to approve a budget that would siphon off resources from struggling neighborhood schools in our community in favor of an additional charter operation.”

Johnson forgets that traditional Hartford schools have always had problems – lots of them in recent decades – but new buildings were still constructed as needed.

If the people of the community want another Achievement First academy– and apparently they do, based on the fact that the school has one open spot for every three applicants – then they should have it.

Hopes of a better education

There is reportedly some opposition to the plan to close the Clark Elementary to make room for the new Achievement First academy. But the school board will be doing its duty by replacing failure with success.

“The thing that makes me so unhappy about this situation here in the city is that … the youngsters at Clark, from an academic point of view, are facing a bleak future and we have to do something about that,” school board Chairman Matthew Poland told the Courant. “Children aren’t able to read. Children aren’t able to do math problems.”

That’s not the case at Achievement First, which is routinely described as being “high performing” by local media.

“On the nationally normed Terra Nova math assessment, our kindergarten through second-grade students performed, on average, at the 90th percentile — meaning that our students’ math achievement averages are in the top 10 percent of all students nationwide,” a statement from the school said. “In reading at all four of our Connecticut elementary schools, an average of 90 percent of students in kindergarten through second grade achieved at or above proficiency on the nationally normed Fountas & Pinnell assessment.”

It must be remembered that Achievement First students originally came from traditional Hartford schools, and did not leave by coercion.

The very existence of a charter school and its growth speaks volumes about the abysmal performance of the public schools.

In Hartford, the dismal traditional schools motivated parents and their children to leave behind friends and familiar surroundings to go to an unknown environment with the hopes of a better education. They apparently found it, because there’s more than enough demand for another charter school.

The teachers union is insulting the deep concern parents have for the welfare of their children by attempting to deny them the right choose the school their children attend.

That is not only pathetically self-serving, but it is diametrically opposed to what America is supposed to be all about.

Authored by Yosef Johnson