The state should fund public schools and public charter schools equitably

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Student. Graduate. Father. Dean.  Coach. Principal. I have been all of these things in my home city of Hartford, and all of them inform how I see the world.

When I led the founding team that opened Achievement First Summit Middle nearly three years ago, I did it because I was passionate about building a place where my students could focus on improving, growing and positively impacting our community. I wanted to create a space where Hartford students, regardless of the messages society might have about who they are or what they’re capable of, would know that they will attend and graduate from college one day.

This is a message that we constantly reinforce at AF Summit. I want the students in our building —and students all over Hartford, including my own children— to know that they are every bit as capable as their peers from our most affluent communities.

I am proud of what we do here every day. I am proud of the diversity of our staff. The number of kids scoring proficient in reading and math are above all other public schools in our district when you compare students from Hartford. In their first year at AF Summit, our students make an average of two years reading growth.

We are providing an excellent educational option for Hartford families. But despite everything we’re doing in our school, our kids are not being viewed equitably with their peers in other schools – and that’s because of the way they’re viewed by the state.

For all of the discussion about the funding of public charter schools – of which AF Summit is one – not enough attention is paid to a simple and distressing fact: on average, public charter school students receive $4,000 less per pupil than their district school peers. In Hartford, this climbs to $7,600 less per pupil.

The same student at one type of public school in Hartford – AF Summit – “deserves” $7,600 less than a student in a different type of public school, based on the way Connecticut schools are funded. That means worries over per-pupil funding. It means public charter school parents don’t often know whether there will be funding for their students as they grow from grade to grade. That flies in the face of everything we say about equity.

And it simply doesn’t make sense.

When Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled the state’s current education funding formula unconstitutional in the CCJEF vs. Rell decision, there arose an opportunity for change. Now, the formula is being revisited, and it should be revisited so that all public charter school students are funded the same as all other public school students in Connecticut. Kids should not be funded differently based on the type of public school they attend.

At AF Summit Middle, fair funding would mean we could devote resources to reading intervention, music and enrichment – ensuring our programs are just as robust as those that exist in almost every other school in the state.

As a former Hartford public school student, as a father, and as a school leader, I have seen up close the potential of all Hartford kids. We recognize that potential in telling them that if they work hard, they can achieve on par with students from anywhere in our state, country and world. Funding our students equally is a necessary step as we push for the equity our kids deserve.

Ben Cruse is the Principal of Achievement First Summit in Hartford.

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