Connecticut charter school work is not done

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A Stamford Charter School for Excellence scholar settles in for her first day of school.

Almost everyone remembers the first day of school. Families rush to get all the necessary back-to-school supplies and new-school clothes. There’s the anticipation of a new teacher, and new friends. There’s a chance to start fresh and put your best foot forward. And this new school year brings significant excitement for more than 1,000 new Connecticut charter school students just months after their families fought and won a battle for a spot in these schools of choice.

Going into 2015, two new charter schools were approved but the funding they needed to open was in question. A number of charter schools that were counting on the opportunity to add seats were not sure if the state would approve the support they needed.

Fortunately, by June 3, the Connecticut charter community emerged victorious — with over 1,100 new seats for children throughout the state. This was the result of incredible work of parents and communities determined to have their voices heard. Parents sent emails to lawmakers, made phone calls, wrote to local papers, and testified at the Capitol in Hartford, all in an effort to ensure the state would follow through on its promises. Now more than 9,300 kids statewide attend a public charter.

The relief these parents felt when they won a better opportunity for their children was palpable. Capital Prep Harbor just opened its doors for its first day – it was sheer excitement for the kids as well as the parents, especially since just a few months ago the school’s fate was uncertain. Now parents are hopeful their children will receive a great education and a chance to succeed in life. Stamford parents felt that same joy this past week on Stamford Charter School for Excellence’s opening day.

Parents are flocking to charter schools in droves and there are several reasons why.

First off, charters give parents a choice. Charter schools are public schools, but they offer something different. Parents deserve the opportunity to send their child to a school that fits their needs and does what it takes to help them succeed. Charter schools offer another option to those families who don’t have the luxury to move or pay for private school.

Second, charters have the flexibility to innovate and experiment with the best ways to help their students achieve. Charter schools operate outside of the local school district, and are instead governed by their own school board. That allows them to more easily establish longer school days or years, adopt or create their own curricula, and use new ways to recruit, reward and retain teachers and administrators.

What’s more, all of Connecticut’s charter schools currently reside in one of many low-performing districts designated by the state. Charters are offering something new and better to the children who aren’t being served well.

Along with all of this, charter schools are also the most accountable public schools there are. Every three to five years, charters go through a renewal process. If they’re not hitting their academic or financial goals, they close.

The vast majority of our charters are getting the job done. In fact, according to the state, over 80 percent of public charter schools continue to outperform their local school districts in English Language Arts and over 60 percent of charters do the same in in math.

There are so many phenomenal examples of schools doing great work. Schools like Elm City Prep in New Haven, ISAAC in New London, Park City Prep in Bridgeport, and Jumoke Academy in Hartford have families lined up year after year to enroll their children.

Our state’s charter schools are part of the fabric of the community. They aren’t only educating, but they’re also teaching their students to be civic-minded. Next month, there will be two charter-led community clean-ups, one in New Haven and another in Bridgeport. All of the charters in those cities will be leading the effort to partner with their community and beautify their cities.

This is an exciting time of year for thousands of charter families but we know our work is not done. Unfortunately, there still aren’t enough available seats for families who are looking for a charter. Right now, there are over 3,600 children on waiting lists for charters across the state, along with a number of families on the sidelines who would likely apply if we had more of these options across the state.

More families and communities deserve the kind of opportunity that charter school children have this school year. We will continue to work with communities, lawmakers, and our partners to ensure that becomes a reality.

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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