The sounds of hip hop and R&B from a local radio station turned the north steps of the state Capitol into a dance party Thursday afternoon as charter school proponents rallied for the restoration of funding for two new charter schools in Stamford and Bridgeport.
About 1,500 charter school students, parents, and supporters surrounded an elaborate stage and sound system in fluorescent “For Every Child” T-shirts. When DJ Bigg Man stepped aside, those who took over the microphone included Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, several state legislators, and many people personally affected by the threat to charter schools.
Malloy said arguments about what type of schools the state should fund are dividing the educational community when it should be united around building great schools for all children.
“Let’s work together for outcomes that are best serving our young people, particularly in our urban environments,” Malloy said. “Let’s not be afraid to experiment, let’s not be afraid to learn lessons from one another and bring them back to the schools that we want to improve. Let’s make sure that we work together and, yes, let’s make sure that we fund charter schools in the state of Connecticut.”
The two new schools hoping that Malloy gets his way are the Stamford Charter School for Excellence in Stamford and Capital Prep Harbor School in Bridgeport.
The governor’s proposed budget for charter school seats was roughly $32 million for the next two years. The Appropriations Committee slashed that amount by about $21 million, leaving only enough to keep the state’s 22 existing charter schools open. An alternative budget submitted by the Republicans also failed to fund the two new schools.
State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford and state Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, co-chairs of the Appropriations Committee, said when they released their spending plan that the decision on charter schools was a balanced approach to meeting the educational needs of students across the state.
“Like the Republicans, we did not choose to fund new charters at this time with so many difficult cuts, and no new magnets either,” Bye said last week.
Formal budget negotiations between majority Democrats and Malloy are expected to start in the next few days.
Jeremiah Grace, state director of the Northeast Charter Schools network, said the Stamford charter school slated to open in August has signed a lease despite the budget uncertainty.
“I think, for them, they are acting under extreme faith that the school will be funded, much like what happened in 2013 when [the Appropriations Committee] took out funding for the four schools and the General Assembly appropriated that money,” he said.
The Coalition for Every Child said there are 861 students who will be directly affected if the two new schools don’t open their doors with the start of the next school year.
Shyheim Russell, a sophomore at Achievement First Hartford High, spoke in support of those students who would not get the same benefits he’s received as a charter school student if the funding doesn’t come through.
“I now want to attend MIT after I graduate. Before I came to Achievement First, I would’ve never considered that a possibility or even considered college. Public charter school students like me and my Achievement First Hartford High classmates shouldn’t have to worry every year whether there will be state funding so we can continue to advance through to the next grade at our school.”
Russell asked state legislators to fight with him — and the 861 students like him — to work toward access to great public schools for all students.
There are currently more than 3,600 names on wait lists for charter schools in the state, according to the Coalition For Every Child.