During Gov. Dannel Malloy’s education reform town hall meeting in New Haven on March 13, one student braved to ask, before a hostile crowd, “Who will speak for me?”

Now, almost two months later, we still don’t have an answer to that question. With just over one week remaining in the legislative component of “The Year for Education Reform,” we still seek leadership courageous enough to stand up and speak for our students. We are still looking for leaders who will give voice to the children we, as a state, are responsible for providing with a high-quality public education.

For months now, folks have spoken loudly in support of the adults in the room. We have spent week after week, hour after hour, discussing property rights, dismissal procedures and windows for contract negotiations. We’ve seen hundreds of teachers dance at a rally as our schools and students suffer, and as legislators tell those teachers they won’t have to agree to any uncomfortable changes that might benefit students. Yet we know 130,000 students remain trapped in failing schools, 9,000 won’t graduate this year, and thousands more will “graduate” but will be completely unprepared for the challenges of work and life in 2012 and beyond.

Despite the fact that legislators have received more than 4,000 letters and emails and more than 15,000 phone calls in support of the original Senate Bill 24, legislative leaders continue to turn a deaf ear to these pleas.

“Who will speak for me,” too many of our students continue to ask.

Who will speak for those fourth graders who struggle to read at grade level, lacking the literacy skills to do even the most basic of middle school work?

Who will speak for the ninth grader stuck in a high school dropout factory, because his family did not win the school choice lottery, where his chances of success are less than one in 10?

Who will speak for the child on the short end of the achievement gap, that Black or Latino 11th grader who is now performing two grade levels behind her Black and Latino peers in states like Massachusetts and Maryland?

Who will speak for the students who have been failed by the system for generations, those kids who have been written off, tracked for failure, or generally overlooked as we talk about the future of public education in Connecticut?

With the clock ticking and just about a week to go before the Connecticut General Assembly goes dark for the year, who will speak for our students?

Now is the time for that “Profiles in Courage” moment. Now is the time to do the right thing.  Now is the time to stand and deliver. Now is the time for legislators to demonstrate they represent the best interests of not only their own constituents, but of all our children, especially the students who need a voice the most.

It appears that most recent version of S.B. 24, crafted by legislative leadership, ignores the need to ensure all children have excellent educators in the classroom. It turns its back on needed accountability provisions. It denies our failing schools a real ability to turn around our most struggling buildings. And it perpetuates a two-tiered system for our public schools, declaring that some students are worth more to leaders than others.

There is still time for S.B. 24 to regain the promise it first offered on Feb. 8. We know what is necessary to improve our public schools. We know it doesn’t require more studies, more pilots and more delays. It demands bold action from those who are willing to stand up and say that our children deserve more, that taking no meaningful action would be irresponsible and unacceptable. It requires true leaders willing to stand up and say, “I speak for you,” to every child looking to education as a pathway to success.

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Real education reform may seem impossible to some, but it can get done. But it requires a true show of leadership and legislators across the state standing up to speak for the students whom all are sworn to serve.

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