CT Legislators must deliver on charter school promises in Bridgeport, Stamford

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A class of Connecticut charter school student gets a visit from local firefighters.

This past Monday, the Appropriations Committee made it clear it isn’t listening to Connecticut parents.

I’ve met the parents asking for a new option in Bridgeport — parents who believe a great school can change their children’s lives, parents who applied to a school for their children and hit the jackpot via a school lottery.

Those parents are the lucky ones. Over Bridgeport 600 families applied to Capital Prep Harbor school, vying for just 250 seats in this fall’s inaugural class. More than 350 children and families came away from the school’s lottery empty handed.

But for the families whose children got in – there’s still bad news.

That’s because this past Monday, the state’s Appropriations Committee proposed a budget that includes cuts of more than $20 million dollars to public charter schools — including funding for Capital Prep Harbor and Stamford Charter School for Excellence — two approved schools that families have been demanding and are counting on.

This budget would stifle the progress we’ve made in the past few years and would hurt the future of children across our state.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal was a bare bones budget for charter schools, funding commitments that were already made to Connecticut families – nothing more. The Appropriations budget proposal cut to the bone.

We need our legislative leaders to hear the voices of families pleading for more charter schools – and they need to deliver on the promises they’ve made.

The truth about education in Connecticut is hard to hear: black, Hispanic, and low-income students are three grade levels behind their peers, according to the Nation’s Report Card (NAEP). That’s the largest achievement gap in the United States.

Charter schools are helping change that, according to the state. Eighty-six percent of charter elementary schools are outperforming their local district schools. Eighty-three percent of charter high schools are doing the same. In fact, the only two schools that under-perform their local districts are alternative charter schools for students the district had trouble educating.

The State Department of Education (SDE) said it best:

“[Connecticut’s public charter schools] have demonstrated an ability to work towards closing the achievement gap for student bodies that are made up predominately of students of color and from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. The number of charter school seats is growing but not yet keeping up with demand.”

No one – not even the Appropriations Committee — can deny that demand is strong. More than 3,600 students are currently on a waiting list to get into a charter school in Connecticut.

Parents in Stamford and Bridgeport should not have to wait for politicians to decide if they’ll deliver on their promises.

And these schools can’t afford to wait, either. Children and families are planning on their doors opening this fall. The schools need to do the necessary work now to set a strong foundation – not two months from now. They’re responsible for providing a strong, healthy learning environment for their students and they’re taking initiative now to make sure they follow through on that promise.

The Appropriations budget also proposes slashing funding for seat growth in some charters. That means schools asking for a slight increase in the number of students they are allowed to serve – whether it’s because they have a long waiting list or they have new or unused facilities – are left unable to help more kids.

When the state budget doesn’t reflect the needs and demands of families across the state, we’re making the wrong choices.

When we’re in the midst of a billion-dollar budget deficit, we need to be making the smart choices, and that means funding the right investments in our future. Supporting charter schools and the commitments we’ve made to parents and students is the smart choice.

Families are choosing charter schools because they believe in the promise of public education – that a great school can truly transform a child’s life. Many of these parents are expecting a seat at a charter school next year. Legislative leaders must deliver on this.

Legislative leaders, follow through on commitments to charter schools by funding them in the state budget. Let our families know you’re listening.

Jeremiah Grace is Connecticut State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the non-profit membership association for public charter schools in Connecticut and New York.

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