Op-Ed: Governor must maintain focus on kids

I believe in speaking truth to power, and today I’m proud to share a truth with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Governor, you have the power to bring parents across Connecticut hope.

Op-ed submit bugIn the past four years, you have met with and listened to thousands of parents, ensuring they have a voice in the education of their children. Education is the foundation for a successful life; it holds a community together and gives parents peace of mind. You’ve shown you understand that fact, and worked with parents, educators and community leaders to provide more Connecticut children the education they deserve.

Make it a priority to continue this trend. There’s still so much work left to do. Connecticut urgently needs more high-quality schools.

More than 500,000 children attend public schools in Connecticut. Far too many of them – including a majority of low-income, African American and Hispanic students – cannot read or do math at grade level.

Parents know when their children aren’t being prepared to succeed, and they’ve been increasingly vocal about the need for change. Many have voted with their feet – more than 8,000 Connecticut children attend public charter schools and even more attend magnets.

But sadly for those families – but the opportunity for parents to select the school best suited for their child is all too rare.

Charter schools are free, public education options available to any parent. But like magnet schools, they have only a limited number of seats. When more students apply to a charter school than there are seats, children are selected via lottery.

Anyone who’s attended a school lottery sees in vivid, unforgettable terms what these options can mean to a family and a community. Every fortunate parent who gets to celebrate a child’s acceptance into a charter school does so in the midst of friends and neighbors who aren’t as lucky, and it shows. And when students don’t get into the school of their choice and parents are left with nowhere to turn, it shows. It’s an experience that drives home how desperately families need the opportunity charters provide.

Governor, you’ve been to every corner of our state and have seen firsthand that Connecticut’s epidemic of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ extends beyond the two sides of Prospect Avenue. It also lies in communities like Newhallville and Washington Park, and education can and must be the great equalizer.

In Greenwich and Glastonbury, parents have great choices for schools. Many others can move to communities that have strong public schools, or can afford to send their children to private schools. They do this because they want their children to have every opportunity to succeed in life.

Parents in Hartford want the same opportunities for their children too. But they’re stuck with sub-par schools and few or no options. They certainly can’t move to Avon.

What they can do is take advantage of new options, like charter schools.

Governor, as you head into your second term, more than 4,200 students languish on charter school waiting lists. In cities like New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford, they are waiting for a path to their future.

You can improve the lives of these families, their children, and their communities. And fortunately, you have a running start.

Each year you’ve been governor, education spending has increased. You’ve expanded early learning opportunities and targeted education aid at the communities that need it most. That includes funding for five new charter schools located in Connecticut’s lowest-performing school districts, and increases in per-student funding that bring charters closer to the state average.

That’s fantastic, and the families of children who owe you for their opportunity to attend a charter school showed their appreciation on election day. Don’t make them regret their decision.

Governor Malloy, parents put their faith in you because of your willingness to put Connecticut children first. There is an urgent need for more public school options in the state of Connecticut, and families expect you work with them to move the ball forward.

Continue and accelerate the progress you made in your first term. Give Connecticut children and families hope.

Jeremiah Grace is Connecticut state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

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