Jeremiah Grace on CT Viewpoints: When righting school funding wrongs, remember charter schools

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In his historic and sweeping decision on Connecticut’s broken school funding system, Judge Thomas Moukawsher announced something we have been shouting from the rooftops for years – many of Connecticut’s kids are not getting the education they deserve and was promised to them under law. They’re languishing. Their rights are being violated. It’s unconstitutional, it’s unfair and finally it seems people have woken up and are taking notice.

For the children, the denial of a fairness means they may never succeed, never get out of poverty, and may never live up to the potential we know is inside them.

That’s why we’re imploring folks in power to remember charters.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of charter schools in Connecticut, and we’ve seen these schools working for the kids who need them most.  We know all children can succeed. All children are capable of greatness. In two decades, we’ve seen 24 different public schools open only in the communities who need them the most.

Charters in Connecticut can only open in Alliance Districts – the very districts Judge Moukawsher says are being discriminated against. These are districts the state has deemed the highest need. Despite being classified as high-needs or at-risk, our students are shining.

Eighty-two percent of CT’s charter schools outperform their host districts in English; 71 percent do the same in math. Last year, two of our schools – Amistad Academy and Elm City College Preparatory School – were labeled schools of distinction by Connecticut’s State Department of Education.

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And this great success has been happening despite the fact that charter schools in Connecticut are working with one hand tied behind their backs. The irrational system of funding that the judge talked about in his decision affects charter schools, too.

Charter schools in Connecticut receive an average of $4,000 less per child to do the same work traditional district schools do. No matter which students come in the door, no matter how high the need of the student population, charters receive less money to do the very important job of educating children.

Instead of funding districts that need it the most, districts with prominent lawmakers reap the benefits while other districts suffer. For instance, a place like Bridgeport which is struggling to make ends meet in its schools, sees massive cuts, while West Hartford, home to a high-profile legislator, actually got more money. While this may come to a surprise to no one, it certainly does not make it right.

Additionally, charters do not receive money for their school buildings – and they’re the only public schools in the state treated this way. It’s simply not fair that our schools have to worry about what money they can move from the classroom to instead pay to keep the lights on and the heat running.

Transportation is also troubling for many of our schools. Charters are located in 14 communities throughout the state and the students come from 77 different towns and municipalities, yet our schools do not receive any funding for transportation outside of the district they’re located in.

Even though charter schools serve our neediest children and vastly outperform traditional district schools, they are still ripped off. And while they can’t demand their money back, we can demand that future generations of Connecticut children are given a fair shake.

The state has appealed Judge Moukawsher’s decision, but that does not mean we should not move forward with a serious, comprehensive plan to fix this broken system. We believe the state ultimately wants to do right by all kids. And if the state is serious about creating a solution that benefits all public school children, they must remember charters in their plans. All families are entitled to equality no matter if they choose a charter school, a magnet school or a traditional district school.

We cannot let this moment pass; we cannot wait years for serious change to happen. We must fulfill our obligation to all children. It should not matter the type of public school they attend. They all deserve fairness, equality, and the opportunity for a great future.

We must not let them down.


This piece originally appeared on CT Viewpoints

 

Jeremiah Grace is the Connecticut State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the membership and advocacy association for Connecticut's public charter schools.
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Jeremiah Grace on CT Viewpoints: When righting school funding wrongs, remember charter schools (unlisted)
Jeremiah Grace on CT Viewpoints: When righting school funding wrongs, remember charter schools
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