School funding in Connecticut is fundamentally flawed, all agree

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Students from Brass City Charter School in Waterbury prepare to play drums.

For months, Connecticut families pleading for a seat in a public charter school were strong in the face of great adversity. They were loud when they had to be, sending thousands of emails and holding over 160 parent meetings with lawmakers. And they were silent, too – sharing messages with lawmakers without ever saying a word like they did at the Capitol Day of Silence.

And lawmakers rewarded that passion. While it was a bare-bones budget for charters this year, the state will still create roughly 2,000 more life-changing opportunities in charter schools over the next two years, while also increasing funding for district schools across the state.

Connecticut lawmakers and Gov. Dannel Malloy deserve sincere thanks and praise for this decisive action in the face of the vitriol from a small but loud group of detractors.

The newly approved budget ensures every child at risk of losing his or her seat in a charter school will be able to stay. It gets more children off of waiting lists. And it gives over 400 children the life-changing opportunity to attend two new charter schools this fall: Capital Prep Harbor or Stamford Charter School for Excellence.

Unfortunately, the per-student state grant for charter school students remains flat-funded in this budget, and we still haven’t made a dent in the disparity between the per-student funding charter schools receive compared to local districts.

Thankfully, legislators were able to tune out the anti-choice rhetoric from foes who claimed charters would receive a windfall in this budget. In reality, lawmakers provided just enough to fund schools already slated to open and pre-existing growth plans at existing schools. To be clear, these investments are the bare minimum it takes to fulfill commitments the state had already made to public charter schools and their students.

But these investments were smart, and here’s why. Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the nation, which means our Black, Hispanic, and low-income students are performing about three grade levels below their peers. Those are the children that need our help most.

Those are also the children charter schools are serving en masse. Nearly three out of four Connecticut charter school students are low-income and nine in 10 are Black or Latino.

And charter schools are doing right by these kids. Low-income students in charters outperform their peers in district schools. The same is true of Black students, Latino students, and special education students.

Those results speak for themselves. That’s why parents are choosing charter schools in droves.

But we still hope to find common ground with detractors who opposed charter schools during this past session. Believe it or not, there are places where we all agree, such as the fact that our funding system for all public schools is fundamentally broken. This dysfunction causes the incessant fighting over the state budget each year. Connecticut needs a funding solution for every school – charter, district, magnet, and the rest – that ensures that all students have the resources they need to learn. We stand ready to work with anyone who is committed to finding a long-term fix to this systemic problem, as other states have.

This year, state leaders proved that they recognize the importance of our next generation by choosing to make smart investments in schools that work. I truly thank our lawmakers and Gov. Malloy for their sound judgment and strong leadership in the face of great fiscal challenges. I look forward to continuing this progress in the years to come.

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

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