As a mother, the thing that’s most important to me is giving my son Sa’Jai every possible opportunity to succeed. He’s only four years old right now, but it’s clear that the education he gets starting at this age will determine the path he takes for the rest of his life.
If Sa’Jai is able to get a great public education at a public charter school, surrounded by teachers and staff who encourage him, I hope to see him go on to college and a fulfilling career. If he has to keep attending local district schools in Bridgeport, however, I’m afraid that his future will be limited.
Growing up, I attended Connecticut district schools, and they failed me. I spent years hoping for some sign that the teachers, administrators, and counselors at my school cared about me, but this sign never came. I was stuck at a low performing school with no guidance, no support, and no safety net.
I didn’t end up graduating on time, and now as an adult and a mother I’m back in school working to get my diploma. This isn’t what I want for Sa’Jai. I want him to get a better education than I received, and I want him to feel like he matters.
That’s why I’ve put Sa’Jai on the waiting list to attend a public charter school in Bridgeport, and that’s why I’m calling on state leaders to make sure these great public schools are treated equitably in this year’s budget.
Connecticut’s public charter schools can give my son, and other children like him, the chances that their parents never had. But in order for this to happen, they need enough funding to keep their doors open and their programs running, and they need enough resources to accept students off of their long waiting lists.
Unfortunately, this vision is far from how things are now. Every year, public charter schools and other schools of choice like magnet schools receive thousands of dollars less in funding for each of their students than district schools do. Over time, this adds up to millions of dollars that great public schools are losing simply because they’re not traditional district schools.
This just isn’t right. Every public school student in Connecticut should be funded fairly, whether they attend a district school, a public charter school, or a magnet school. And every family in Connecticut should have access to high quality public school options, whether they live in a struggling Hartford neighborhood or by the water in Greenwich.
The good news is that Connecticut has an ideal opportunity to fix the status quo. Last fall, the Connecticut Superior Court ruled in the CCJEF v. Rell case that the state’s current funding formula is unconstitutional, and gave legislators the task of replacing it. And as we speak, state leaders are in the process of considering Governor Malloy’s budget.
This is the kind of perfect storm that comes around once in a lifetime. Legislators have an obligation to honor the court’s decision, and they have the chance to finally level the playing field for all of our kids. All they have to do is pass an education funding formula that treats every type of public school equally.
If Connecticut is willing to stand up and give public charter schools the fair funding they deserve, I have faith that Sa’Jai will be able to get off of the waiting list and into a classroom where he feels nurtured and inspired. I have faith that he’ll be able to get his diploma on time, and will leave high school excited for the opportunities in front of him.
I want my son and his peers to have this kind of future, and I hope that our state leaders feel the same.
Monisha Lee is a public school parent from Bridgeport. Her 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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