“Schools are for kids.” With this simple phrase, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher showed thousands of Connecticut parents that he respects our children’s right to a great education.
Before Judge Moukawsher made this statement last month while giving his ruling on CCJEF v. Rell, it seemed like a lot of people had lost sight of what our kids deserve. Many public schools across Connecticut weren’t getting enough funding from the state, and this pattern had an especially harmful impact on public charter schools like the one my daughter attends.
But now there’s hope for parents like me, who have watched the schools our children love suffer the effects of unfair funding. The CCJEF decision declared Connecticut’s current public school funding formula unconstitutional, and ordered state legislators to create a new system during this legislative session. Attorney General George Jepsen has appealed the court’s ruling but is still asking lawmakers to reform the education system, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has argued that the state doesn’t need a court order to act. As this dialogue about public education in Connecticut continues, our state legislators have a real opportunity to enact change. By seizing this moment, they can finally do right by all of Connecticut’s public school families.
My daughter Ava is currently a third-grader at Amistad Academy in New Haven. Ava loves her school — she’s become much more passionate about learning since starting there, and can’t wait to tell me what happened in class every day when she gets home. Amistad gives kids from different backgrounds and zip codes a first-rate education, so I was shocked to find out that it’s one of the many public schools severely underfunded by Connecticut. And because Ava’s school is a public charter school, it receives even less aid than the district schools our neighbors attend.
Reading Families for Excellent Schools’ recent report, titled “Schools are for Kids” after Judge Moukawsher’s inspiring quote, I realized for the first time just how serious the effects of this imbalance are. Public charter school students like Ava receive an average of $4,000 less per year than district school students, and during the 2014-15 school year this discrepancy cost charter schools across the state $32 million.
Public charter schools like the one Ava attends can’t afford to keep losing this funding. More and more parents are choosing these schools for their kids and trying to get them a seat, but charters can’t keep up with this demand. Charter school leaders are also trying to do more for their students with less money, and it’s stretched their schools’ budgets to a breaking point. Not only have they been unable to meet parent demand, they’ve also had to make harmful budget cuts. Some may not see all of these cuts as a big deal, but for families like mine they have a real impact. An art or music class that gets cut could’ve inspired someone’s daughter to pursue a creative career, and an after-school science program that’s forced to close could’ve changed the life of someone’s son.
Charter schools shouldn’t be forced into this difficult position, and they should be funded fairly. As Judge Moukawsher explained, Connecticut has a duty to put vulnerable students on a level playing field with their peers, and the “Schools are for Kids” report shows that public charter schools are bringing this vision to life. In neighborhoods that are considered “high-needs,” public charters serve more Black and Hispanic students and more low-income students than traditional district schools, and help these kids earn higher scores on important exams — from the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) in English and Math to the SATs.
Public charter schools have clearly transformed the lives of thousands of students, and the Superior Court has declared that underfunding them — along with every other type of public school—is unconstitutional. Now, it’s up to state legislators to work out a solution that funds all schools fairly. Plenty of positive examples have been set by elected leaders like Governor Malloy, who has always fought for public school families, and like State Representatives Chris Rosario, Charlie Stallworth, and Juan Candelaria, who stood with parents and educators this month at the Capitol as they demanded a fairer system.
If the rest of the General Assembly follows their lead, they can help children at all kinds of public schools, from charter schools to district schools to magnet schools, get the resources they deserve and the support they need to experience long-term success.
Garrett Munroe lives in New Haven. His daughter Ava is in the third grade at Amistad Academy and his son Taylor is in the 10th grade at Amistad High School. He is a member of the New Haven Chapter of Families for Excellent Schools, and his op-ed was sponsored by Families for Excellent Schools as part of its Fight for Fair Funding campaign — click here to tell the legislature that Connecticut’s kids can’t wait.
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