Shaping a generation

Twenty years ago this weekend, Governor John Rowland signed a bill into law and by doing so changed the trajectory of the lives of thousands of Connecticut children.

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The bill he signed on June 4 of 1996 established charter schools in The Constitution State, thereby giving scores of families the option under law to choose a different kind of public school for their child. In the fall of 1997, 11 charter schools opened – 8 of them continue to operate, and are now veterans in this movement, part of the 24 charter schools that dot Connecticut’s landscape. 

In those early years, a lot was learned, and along the way charter educators have done tremendous work educating Connecticut’s children. Even when mistakes were made, each passing year has given educators a chance to reevaluate, grow and learn.

Today more than 9,000 children in our state are being educated in charter schools from Windham to Fairfield Counties and everywhere in between.

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Charter schools were established to offer a new opportunity to children, especially kids of color and kids from low-income families, who didn’t have access to a schools that fit their educational needs. Those new options have made a significant impact on Connecticut’s achievement gap – you cannot argue against the fact that charter schools have changed the lives of inner-city children of color who may not have otherwise had success in education. Take for instance Achievement First Hartford High School’s first graduating class, who celebrated their Senior Signing Day a few weeks ago at The Bushnell in Hartford. All 36 graduates who walked on stage held up the t-shirt of the college or university they’ll be attending this fall, and each one of those students is a student of color – many of them saying they’ll prove skeptics wrong, that they’re not a statistic, and that they will succeed – and I have no doubt they will, thanks in large part to the incredible education afforded to them at the time at AF.

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The law was also passed to inspire innovation in public education – and that it has done. For instance, New Haven is home to Common Ground, one of the original charters. Common Ground was founded by teachers and environmentalists who wanted to use local parks and natural settings as part of their curriculum; they teach students ecological concepts and connect them with their community’s natural resources. Putting that plan into action, Common Ground routinely plants trees with its students, teaches them about sustainability by gardening and farming right on the school grounds, and recently unveiled their new sustainable building which uses geothermal, solar, and a rainwater treatment system. 

Each year, more and more parents are turned on to the idea of charter schools. It’s why the waitlist to attend one has grown more than 60% in one year to a list with more than 6,000 names on it. Supply simply can’t keep up with demand.

One of the major reasons parents are choosing charters for their kids is performance. Charters outperform their district school counterparts year after year in both math and English. Data is something you cannot argue with.

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Additionally, because charters are doing such great work, they get support from legislators on both sides of the aisle – because many lawmakers want to invest in what is working for our kids. We have champions like Governor Malloy who fights year in and year out to make sure kids and their families have access to exceptional, high-quality schools.

Parents are choosing public charter schools in droves because of the terrific work they’re doing educating kids – and we hope that we only see more support for them for years to come. They are no longer an experiment. They have proven their value, they’ve changed the lives of a generation of Connecticut children, and thanks to dedicated and diligent educators – they’re here to stay.

Happy 20 years to Connecticut charters – we’re looking forward to the next 20!

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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Shaping a generation
Shaping a generation
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