Five days a week, Park City Prep’s 360 students attend school in a 101-year-old former factory building in Bridgeport. The Bead Chain Manufacturing Company thrived there for most of the 20th century, first making the chains on military dog tags before broadening to make components found in everything from air bags to computer chip boards. The company grew from three people to 300, and made important contributions to our modern economy.
Today, in the same building, we want our students to continue this legacy by thinking creatively and scientifically, with a focus on the future and the role they can play in it.
As our students return to school, they know they’re beginning a year of new challenges, new ideas, and new people. Behind the scenes, however, things look a little different. Because state legislators still haven’t fixed Connecticut’s broken public school funding system, the staff at Park City Prep is going into the new school year prepared to scrape by with insufficient resources.
Our school was founded to emphasize mathematics, scientific inquiry, and technology in academics, while instilling in our students values of responsibility, excellence, and perseverance. We teach these young people — more than three-quarters of whom come from low-income families, and almost 94 percent of whom are Black or Hispanic — that their futures are full of opportunity and promise. We also prepare them to excel in rigorous high school environments, and as a result, every year, nearly 90 percent of our eighth-grade graduates are accepted to at least one selective private or public choice high school.
In order to maintain this laser-focus on academic achievement, we prioritize classroom funding above everything else. That might sound like a no-brainer, because most of the school day takes place in classrooms. But with scant resources, it involves complicated and difficult trade-offs that negatively impact upon students’ lives.
At Park City Prep, being chronically underfunded by the state means that we are forced to operate without things that many traditional schools take for granted. Typically, school districts have specialists in reading and math skills who supplement the work the regular classroom teachers do with students who are behind in those subjects. These interventionists play a critical role in catching students up and preparing them for success, but Park City Prep has not been able to hire any of them. As a result, students are not able to make the gains that they otherwise might if the supports that students typically get in traditional public schools (which are funded at a much higher rate than charter schools) were in place. Some might classify this kind of non-classroom spending as “overhead,” but in reality it’s an important part of maintaining a robust and enriching school environment.
The choice between classroom spending and spending on critically-needed instructional support services is not one that Park City Prep, or any other public charter school, should have to make. It makes no sense that public charter school students, who are just as much public school students as those at traditional district schools, receive approximately $4,000 less per year in public operational dollars than their traditional public school peers.
Earlier this year, it looked as if this unfair system might finally change, with the landmark CCJEF v. Rell decision, but real reform has yet to happen. Now, as students across Connecticut go back to school, fair-minded educators have a simple message for our State legislators: it’s time to get back to work, deliver equitable funding, and help our students get the great public education they deserve.
Bruce Ravage is the Founder & Executive Director of Park City Prep in Bridgeport.