Christine Stuart photo
Hartford Board of Ed member Andrea Comer along with Hartford Academy’s would-be students (Christine Stuart photo )

“Our funding has been cut and our children are paying the price,” Andrea Comer of the Hartford Board of Education said Tuesday morning at the state Capitol.

Speaking one floor above Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office, a group of students, parents, teachers, and community advocates gathered to ask Rell to use her executive powers to release $2.1 million in funding to ensure 252 students can attend the new Achievement First charter school this fall. The school will be located in the old Mark Twain School on Lyme Street in Hartford.

But Rell said Tuesday on the WTIC morning show that “there is no money” for the school. She said that while she initially endorsed the funding, the state decided not to change the budget this year, so there is no new spending. She also said that beginning next week there will be rescissions.

Dacia Toll, CEO of Achievement First—the nonprofit group that created the award-winning Amistad Academy in New Haven—said, “Today is not about blame; it’s about hope.” She said opening the school is about an granting opportunity to children.

“We as a school make promises to our parents and we want to explore every available option,” Toll said regarding Rell’s comments. Unwavering in their optimism, no one at the news conference Tuesday was willing to talk about what happens if the school does not receive the money.

“This has not always been an easy journey,” Comer said. “But I believe in our children and I believe in their promise.”

When only 29 percent of 8th graders entering high school in Hartford are graduating in four years, something needs to be done, Dr. Christina Kishimoto, the senior director of school design for Hartford Public Schools, said Tuesday. She said the new school model developed by Achievement First gives parents and students a choice.

Jared Bailey, one of the first students to graduate from New Haven’s Amistad Academy, can attest to the success of the model. Now in his junior year at New York University, Bailey said that at first he wasn’t too excited about school uniforms and long hours, but what he learned at Amistad was responsibility and a good work ethic.

Toll said that when Bailey came to Amistad he was behind in both reading and math, but by the time he left he was in the 90th percentile and received a full scholarship to Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford.

Jennifer Jackson wants her two daughters to have the same opportunity. She said finally there is a public school that adheres to private school standards. “I don’t believe a $150 million budget deficit should be repaired by denying these kids a unique experience,” Jackson said Tuesday. She said she doesn’t understand how something so meaningful can be traded for something so meaningless.

Tuesday afternoon Rell’s office released a statement announcing that she has directed the heads of all executive branch agencies to freeze spending for the current fiscal year.

“Funds which remain unexpended within your appropriations will assist in keeping the state finances in balance in the current fiscal year,” Rell wrote. “We must end the current fiscal year and begin the next in a fiscally responsible manner.”