As state grapples with budget, poor students shouldn’t get left behind

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There’s no question that this is a trying time for Connecticut. Our economy has seen better days and we’re facing a projected budget deficit of more than $2 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.

It’s a situation that calls for hard work and meaningful reform, but it’s not an excuse for state leaders to turn our backs on the communities that need us most. After all, Connecticut’s economic downturn has repercussions far beyond the walls of the Capitol.

While legislators in Hartford deliberate on a budget that will get us out of the woods, public schools across the state are struggling to provide their students with the resources they need. This problem is most severe in low-income urban communities, where district, charter and magnet schools don’t receive enough funding under the current Education Cost Sharing formula.

The challenges facing low-income public schools aren’t anything new. Public schools in cities like Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport have been underfunded for years and have stretched their own budgets thin helping students of color succeed. Charter and magnet schools, which educate 50,000 children across Connecticut, have had an especially hard time, receiving thousands fewer per-pupil dollars each year than their district school counterparts.

What is new is the chance state legislators have to fix things before this extended session ends. Back in September, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the current funding formula was unconstitutional in the landmark CCJEF v. Rell case. It was a defining moment in the fight for fair funding, and it gave the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus reason to believe that a change would come. We hoped to see the spirit of CCJEF reflected in the state’s budget, finally giving black and Hispanic students the dollars they deserve.

So far, that hasn’t happened. Some of the budget proposals under consideration have taken steps towards fulfilling the promise of CCJEF, while others set the state’s most vulnerable students further back. None of the existing plans would close the funding gap between Connecticut’s richest and poorest schools, and none would fully rectify the inequities experienced by charter and magnet schools.

As chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, I am disappointed by this reality. We represent districts with a high concentration of low-income public school students and it pains us to see them struggle without access to equitable funding. Simply because they live in urban communities rather than affluent neighborhoods, these children are treated like they’re worth less than their wealthier peers. It isn’t right, and it needs to change.

As the budget process continues in Hartford, we urge our fellow legislators to ensure urban schools, from traditional district schools to magnet and charter schools, don’t fall by the wayside.

The students in these communities have the potential to shape the course of Connecticut’s future, but first we need to do right by them and invest in their education. Fair funding for every public school student is the best path forward for our state.

State Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, is chairman of the state legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.

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