This weekend, I watched on television as people across the country, mostly of color, gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to remember the civil rights march that occurred there 50 years ago. I reflected on what the march represented for African American parents like me.

While we’ve made progress as a nation, we still have so much farther to go. For me, it represented our ongoing efforts to ensure that people of color and the poor have equitable access to quality opportunities via voting, education, employment, fair housing, and health care.

Here in Connecticut, we’ve made some progress in education, starting in 2010, with the Black and Latino Caucus members leading the efforts and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s and our General Assembly’s efforts in 2012 to ensure that all Connecticut’s children and their parents had access to the educational opportunities that would give them their best chance at success in academics and in life.

These efforts mean more parents have a choice when it comes to their children’s education. And when parents have a choice, it gives their kids a better chance in life.

Yet, the march for equity still continues. While I am sure many appreciate the steps Gov. Malloy and our state leaders have taken to make schools better for all children — especially those most in need — I have grave concerns that the proposed budget is set-up to abandon our most vulnerable children and families just when the future was starting to look hopeful for greater access to quality educational opportunity.

We must dispel any illusion about the current state of public education in Connecticut, especially for certain children. Statewide, over a third of students aren’t reaching grade level in math and reading. And it’s nearly double that for children of color. No one can look at those numbers and truthfully claim our schools are equitably working for all kids.

With results like these, far too many black and brown children are being set up to fail. That means the possibility of life on the streets, a non-living wage job, a jail cell or a coffin. Let us keep it real — It means we continue to leave families stranded in poverty by our opportunity gaps. This is morally and ethically wrong and not in the best interest of Connecticut’s economy.

As a parent of color, I understand the importance of taking personal responsibility but that can only take us so far when the access to an opportunity to succeed is systematically denied to our children!

Will our state leaders hear the pleas of parents, especially low-income parents and parents of color? Will they have the moral courage to make the politically tough decisions that are in the best interests of all children?

Or, will they continue to be seduced by professional status-quo protectors who choose to not have their own children in low performing schools while opposing giving children most in need access to options. While they may have good intentions, they speak from and come from a place of privilege, and don’t or refuse to understand the real struggle that low-income families and communities of color go through. They continue to defend the system as it is and to disparage any meaningful effort to improve education for low-income and urban families through parent options, or school choice. They fail to offer meaningful solutions that will help our children most in need — right now!

Whether we want to accept this fact or not, many schools in Connecticut are consistently failing children of color and children from low-income communities, and parents are being ignored when all they want are better schools for their kids. We have only three people of color on the State Board of Education. Yet, the Governor chose to appoint a Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers to the board, which raises ethical questions, instead of appointing the actual consumers of public education who can speak to the educational experiences of children who are being left behind by many of our schools.

That’s an insult. This appointment has ensured parents will not get a fair voice at the education policy table because we have handed union bosses even more monopoly power over education policy than they already have. 

This cannot continue. Despite ivory tower privilege, the fact is that parents in Connecticut want the very best schools for their children, but many can’t afford a private or parochial school, nor do they have the financial means to move to a town with higher quality schools. There are thousands of parents wanting to ensure their neighborhood schools can meet the academic needs of their children, and there are thousands of parents asking for more options like quality charter schools.

This legislative session, our state leaders are pushing to invest in our aging transportation system. I applaud this effort. It will improve our economy and strengthen our state’s foundation moving forward. If we do not also fix our schools, then only certain communities will benefit. Without equitable access to quality schools, only people in certain zip codes will have access to employment opportunities that will require the use of the improved transportation system.

It should go without saying: our children are the true foundation of our future because they are the future community leaders and our future workforce. If we can find billions to invest in roads and bridges, we can surely support quality charter schools amongst our traditional schools, thus ensuring parents have access to various educational opportunities to ensure the academic and future success of their children.

No parent, taxpayer, or lawmaker should have to support a budget that chooses between life’s basic needs or a quality education — they are not interchangeable.

And so, our march for equity goes on. It goes on so that the Governor and our elected leaders listen to the people who truly understand what education means to our state and our future.

We march on so that families in Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Meriden and other communities will have access to the quality schools they need to survive in life.

We march on so that our schools, educators and communities will be accountable for delivering results for our children and for using our tax dollars wisely to meet this goal.

We march on until more children are stepping toward and able to read their diplomas instead of a prison sentence.

We march on until our children and families can fully engage in the civic process of voting and policymaking.

We march on so that the leaders we voted into office will speak up for the needs of all Connecticut citizens, not just a select few.

Gwen Samuel is a parent of two children in Connecticut Public Schools and the Founder and President of the Connecticut Parents Union. She also works with a Parent and Youth Group in New Haven. She can be reached on Twitter @RealTalkGwenS.

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