On April 2, the state Board of Education approved applications for two new charter schools in Bridgeport after hundreds of parents like me attended public hearings to voice our support.
But that vote came after the Bridgeport Board of Education passed its own “moratorium” on new charters, saying the city cannot afford them. And, this week, the board has taken action to legally challenge the new schools – both actions were taken without providing any documentation of the city’s education budget.
As a lifelong resident of Bridgeport and the parent of 11 children and grandchildren, all of whom have graduated from or currently attend the city’s public schools, I find that our local Board of Education’s actions miss the big picture. One important thing is always missing from the conversation: any discussion of the thousands of children and their parents who are desperate for a chance to give their kids a great education.
For as long as I can remember, we have struggled here in Bridgeport to provide excellent schools for our children. Yet, our elected leaders continue to take actions that block any progress.
Last month, I joined a group of other concerned parents in asking the city board to show us how they determined that Bridgeport cannot afford new public charter schools. It is our understanding that the new charters are funded by the state budget, not the city, and the per-student grants to the city would continue to go to the city, even if those students are enrolled in a charter school.
So, we asked, how is the city spending the education funding it gets from the state? And show us why, exactly, are charters unaffordable in Bridgeport?
Our parent group sent a formal Freedom of Information request, which requires the board to hold open meetings, and to share its records with the public. The law is based on a simple concept: if taxpayer dollars are paying, the public has a right to know what is happening and to be there when decisions are made.
The board had four days from the time of getting our letter to respond, but they have given us nothing.
This isn’t a frivolous request. It is a plea for transparency. We’ve gone through an extensive process to support and gain approval for new schools. Now the Board of Education is claiming it cannot afford them, but they will spend what could amount to millions of dollars to launch a lawsuit.
I love Bridgeport, and I chose to raise my family here. I have lived in this city all of my life and I’ve seen many things — both good and bad — that have happened in our schools over the years.
Every parent in this city – whether they support charter schools or not – has a right to know how the city is spending its money. As a Bridgeport parent and taxpayer, I am here to tell you we have had enough. There’s just too much going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Our city’s children are being held hostage.
If the Board of Education sincerely believes that charter schools will drain the city budget, tell us why. And if that is not the case, please get out of the way so that thousands of parents like me can celebrate the news that two new excellent charter schools will be opening in Bridgeport.
Leon Woods lives in Bridgeport and organizes for Families for Excellent Schools.