Without saying a word, Connecticut’s charter school families, students, leaders and educators made their voices heard Tuesday during a “Day of Silence” demonstration held at the State Capitol ahead of the Appropriations Committee hearing.
For two hours, the group stood stood silently in various locations throughout the Legislative Office Building in Hartford holding signs with brief stories that highlighted the inequities public charter schools face in the state.
Demonstrators’ mouths were covered with black ribbon in order to illustrate the feeling that their voices and their demands have fallen on deaf ears.
Unified under the hashtag #CTDayofSilence, many throughout the Capitol took note of the thought-provoking messages on each sign. “My child shouldn’t have to win the lottery to have access to a high-quality education,” read one sign, while another asked “How could you fix the way our state funds public schools without including ALL public schools?”
Dennis Morris, a parent of both a current student and an alumnus of Hartford’s Jumoke Academy, said he felt compelled to participate in the demonstration because he believes that a good education is the key to success for our children.
“It was a very unique experience in that I could not respond to supporters of our cause,” Morris said of Tuesday’s demonstration, adding “I hope lawmakers will restore funding to charter schools and continue support the education of our children.”
John Taylor, Executive Director of Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven, also joined parents and students during Tuesday’s demonstration. He explained the thought behind his sign which read “my students deserve to be included,” saying “I carried that sign because I feel strongly that if we say we value all of Connecticut's children equally, then we should put our money where our mouth is.”
Booker T. Washington Academy is one of several Connecticut charter schools looking to add additional grades as outlined in their charter. Currently a K-3 school, BTWA hopes to continue adding grades each year until they are a full K-12 school.
The purpose of the demonstration was to express to lawmakers that the demands of the charter school community have gone unheard, specifically with regard to Governor Malloy’s proposed FY 2018-2019 budget. As presented, the budget would not support charter schools like Booker T. Washington Academy that are looking to add additional grades, nor would it support charter schools already at scale but looking to add more students.
And most notably, the budget fails to include any schools of choice - including charter schools - in the Governor’s proposed plan to fix the way Connecticut funds public school students.
These sentiments were echoed in testimonies delivered throughout the evening before the Appropriations Committee. Stretching late into the evening hours, members of the charter school community testified passionately before the committee on behalf of fairness and equity for charter schools.
Jermaine Smith, a student at Bridgeport’s Capital Prep Harbor, urged lawmakers to support further growth of charter schools so that even more kids can be afforded the types of opportunities available to him at his charter school.
“There are so many other kids in in communities like mine who have big dreams,” Smith said, “Public charter schools are part of the solution to make those dreams a reality.”
Melissa Asare, whose daughter is a scholar at Stamford Charter School for Excellence, passionately told lawmakers that she was both “disappointed” and “angry” that support to allow Stamford Excellence to add grades wasn’t included in the Governor’s budget.
Stamford Excellence parents Elizabeth Toro and Melissa Asare
“Two years ago we celebrated in these very halls when you all made a commitment to fully fund our school,” Asare said. “Yet, here we are again fighting for our very existence.”
Asare was one of several parents who took the trek to Hartford and stayed from the early afternoon long into the evening hours. Some came as far away as Stamford, Waterbury and other parts of the state, demonstrating just how dedicated charter parents are to advocating on behalf of their schools and their students.
Andy Sternlieb and Dr. Barbara Ruggiero of Brass City Charter School
Dr. Charlene Reid of Stamford Charter School for Excellence
“Our charter parents are the heart and soul of our advocacy work,” said NECSN CT State Director Jeremiah Grace, “Whether it’s testifying at the Capitol or attending parent trainings in the evening hours after work, they’re always willing to go the extra mile on behalf of their kids.”
Still, Grace says it’s unfair that charter parents must go to these lengths year after year in order to guarantee fair and equitable treatment for their children.
“No family, regardless of the type of school in which they choose to enroll their child, should have to fight for this. They should be able to rest assured that no matter where they choose to enroll their child, that child is receiving a high-quality education, and that lawmakers will fund that choice fairly,” he said.
Tuesday’s “Day of Silence” demonstration was the second to be sponsored by NECSN, with the first one occurring in 2015.