The third annual Charter Awareness Day at the State Capitol in Hartford is officially in the books, and what a truly historic day it was!
We witnessed students, parents, educators and community members come together on Tuesday, May 2 more than 100 strong, fiercely advocating on behalf of their schools. Students also got a taste of what advocacy looks like IRL as they engaged with lawmakers and hand-delivered more than 700 hand-written postcards from charter school students across the state demanding fairness and equal funding for charter schools during these last few weeks of legislative session.
A student displays a handful of postcards just before delivering them to Governor Dannel Malloy's office!
Students and parents also met with more than two dozen lawmakers as part of the day's lobbying activities, urging them to support and fairly fund public charter schools.
This year, Charter Awareness Day fell within National Charter Schools Week which is currently being recognized nationwide. It also came on the heels of the very first charter educator being named 2017’s National Teacher of the Year, as well as a public charter high school, Amistad Academy in New Haven, being recognized as the No. 1 public high school in the state of Connecticut by U.S. News & World Report.
Still, public charter schools in Connecticut receive on average $4,000 less per pupil than district schools, and have been flat funded at $11,000 per pupil for the past three years.
“Charter schools have earned their place in the public education landscape and we deserve to be treated and funded as such,” said NECSN Connecticut State Director Jeremiah Grace in his remarks which were also streamed via Facebook Live.
Jeremiah Grace + the second screen
With only a few short weeks left this legislative session, lawmakers still have not passed a budget that includes charter schools in a funding formula fix or addresses the inequities charter schools face -- a point not lost on Charter Awareness Day participants.
“In Connecticut, we’re constantly fighting to ensure that not only are our schools protected from any further cuts, but that our schools are treated fairly and equitably,” said NECSN CEO Janeene Freeman. “Charter Schools in Connecticut face a significant funding gap when compared to district schools, despite our proven track record of successfully closing our state’s achievement gap and setting high standards for achievement in some of Connecticut’s most historically underserved districts.”
Aside from advocacy work, Charter Awareness Day also served as an opportunity for Connecticut's public charter schools to showcase their diverse offerings.
Schools set up tables throughout the State Capitol corridor, distributing information and engaging with visitors to tell them about the magic happening inside their schools. Visitors were encouraged to fill out Charter Awareness Day “passports” by visiting at least eight tables where they could get their “passport” stamped to collect a prize.
Destination: CT Charters! A look at a completed passport
Lessandra Mendoza, a sophomore at Common Ground High School in New Haven, used this opportunity to discuss how much she loves attending her school and how the educational model there has helped to empower her.
"My experience at Common Ground has been really great," Mendoza said. "Since freshman year, this school has done a lot to raise student voices and how we can take leadership into our own hands and we can branch out into our own community... students can make an impact onto our communities no matter what we do."
A pair of Explorations Charter School scholars hand out passports
At the culmination of the day, six Torchbearer Awards were given out to individuals whose contributions, advocacy and hard work have aided the public charter school movement during this legislative session. Here are a few sights and sounds from the recipients themselves:
“We’re in a pretty dark time in the legislature right now, but whatever we do, we’re going to have to preserve and even heighten the things we do for education. There is nothing more important."
CT State Rep. Gail Lavielle
“Growing up on the east side of Bridgeport, my mother did everything she could to try to get me the best education. Unfortunately, there weren’t opportunities like charters or any school of choice when I was growing up. So, I’m going to make sure that I fight for that opportunity for others."
CT State Rep. Christopher Rosario
“I’ve been with this struggle, this fight for charter schools in Connecticut for almost 14 years now. And I have to tell you, each year it gets more and more intense instead of the other way around."
Ronelle Swagerty, CEO of New Beginnings Family Academy in Bridgeport
“Six or seven years ago, I didn’t know what a charter school was... Someone brought me to visit Amistad (Academy in New Haven), and I heard the statistic that Connecticut had the largest achievement gap in the country. And I honestly didn’t believe it. I was incredulous. How could such a wealthy state have kids in this kind of situation?”
Dr. Barbara Ruggiero, Executive Director of Brass City Charter School in Waterbury
Explorations Charter School parent Caren Smith and Jumoke Academy parent Dennis Morris were also honored for their parent advocacy work.
All in all, Charter Awareness Day 2017 was a huge success, and it couldn't have happened without the incredible public charter school community of educators, school leaders, parents and most importantly, students.
Here's to 2018!
Click here to view a full press release and more photos of the day's events.
And for a special treat, check out our Facebook page by clicking here! There, you'll see video of the Torchbearer Awards ceremony, plus a behind-the-scenes look at Charter Awareness Day hosted by our very own CEO turned Facebook Live roving reporter, Janeene Freeman!