The health of Connecticut’s public education system and our economic growth go hand in hand.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s recent education budget proposal recognizes this link by supporting critical investments to improve public education. If approved, this budget could have a significant and positive impact on Connecticut’s long-term economic health.

Right now 65,000 students — 11.6 percent of the state’s total public school population — are currently stuck in schools that the Department of Education has deemed to be in dire need of assistance.

Our children need better options now, and our state’s economic future depends on it.

Last year’s landmark education reform law (Public Act 12-116) took steps to improve these outcomes. But, key pieces of these reforms were dialed-back as part of December’s deficit mitigation plan. 

Malloy’s proposed biennial budget restores investments in key pillars of last year’s law. The governor’s budget calls for an increase in the number of high-quality public charter schools, increases funding for charter school students, and proposes funding to allow 17 of the state’s lowest-performing schools to join the Commissioner’s Network, the state’s school turnaround program.

The governor’s budget would provide immediate and meaningful solutions to improve schools and help our most underserved students. If we are going to ensure a brighter economic and civic future for our state, we must make certain that every child has access to a high quality education.

That means we must work tirelessly to turn around our lowest-performing schools. We also need to sustain high quality public school options and help create more of them to meet the demand.

Specifically, we need to:

Sustain and grow public schools of choice. Recent studies have shown that high quality charter schools do an exceptional job of educating low-income students, with charter students often outperforming their peers at traditional public schools.

According to State Department of Education data, public charter schools in Connecticut are following that trend, offering hope in the form of education to the students who need it most. Connecticut public charter schools are providing an outstanding education for our kids, with nearly 80 percent of charters out-performing the average school in their host district, according to the State Department of Education’s Student Performance Index.

Despite this success, students at public charter schools are funded at a significantly lower level than their peers at traditional public schools. We must resolve this disparity and invest in schools that are delivering results for kids.

Thankfully, Malloy’s budget proposal includes funds for the creation of four new public charter schools over the next two years, and more fairly funds students attending charters. The legislature should uphold these proposals

Turn around failing schools. The Commissioner’s Network was created to turn around 25 of our lowest-performing schools, many of which have been failing our kids for several generations.

This turnaround effort is incredibly difficult but offers great promise. For example, a partnership between Jumoke Academy — a public charter school located in Hartford — and one of Hartford’s lowest-performing schools, the Milner School, has enabled both schools to share support services and bring Jumoke’s community-based model to Milner. Because of the partnership and support from the Network, Milner was able to extend the school year by 25 days, hire teachers and staff, and improve instruction and school culture — progress that would not have been possible without the Commissioner’s Network platform.

Our students need more partnerships like that between Jumoke and Milner. Currently, four schools are participating in the Commissioner’s Network, and Malloy’s budget would add 17 low-performing schools to the Network in the next biennium. The legislature must maintain progress and protect the funding that would allow more schools to participate in the Commissioner’s Network.

In sum, Malloy’s proposal is a long-term investment that will not only improve student outcomes, but will also pay off for taxpayers and local business owners. Every dollar spent on education is a dollar devoted to creating a talented, educated workforce, and every child whose education is improved through these vital initiatives is another Connecticut native who companies will want to hire.

For the sake of our state’s economy, and for the sake of our kids and grandkids, we cannot afford to dial back on our efforts to ensure great public schools for every student in Connecticut.

Jennifer Alexander is the acting CEO of ConnCAN, a National School Choice Week partner dedicated to advocating school choice in Connecticut.