It is critical and past due that Gov. Dannel Malloy and especially Connecticut Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell look at the inequity in funding of the students who attend the Bridgeport Public Schools as compared to the more affluent suburban school districts in Connecticut.
As indicated in a recent op-ed commentary that appeared in various Connecticut newspapers, Interim Superintendent of Bridgeport Public Schools Frances Rabinowitz succinctly and dramatically pointed out how drastically underfunded the students who attend the Bridgeport Public Schools are as compared to the more affluent school districts in the Connecticut suburbs.
Superintendent Rabinowitz cited, for example, the disparity in per pupil expenditure in Bridgeport in the amount of $13,923 compared to the Westport Public Schools where the per pupil expenditure for the upcoming school year amounts to $19,747, a difference of nearly $6,000 per student.
Needless to say, this glaring inequity should be a disgrace to the State of Connecticut as well as for every citizen, whether suburban or urban, who need to be made more aware of how this woeful inequity impacts the students who attend the Bridgeport Public Schools.
As Rabinowitz pointed out, the inequity in funding between Bridgeport and Westport students results in class sizes of 29 for Bridgeport elementary and middle school as compared to class sizes of approximately 20 students in Westport. Can you imagine the uproar that would be generated among suburban parents if their children were exposed to classes of 30 children? As a former elementary school principal for more than 30 years with the Fairfield Public Schools, I know from experience that if parents in my school were told that their children would be in a classroom of 30 students, the parents would rightfully be furious and up in arms!
In light of this glaring inequity in school funding between the more affluent suburban school districts and urban districts in Connecticut such as Bridgeport, isn’t it time for Commissioner Wentzell to reassess her priorities? It is her responsibility as well as the State of Connecticut to ensure that all students attending public schools in Connecticut are entitled to an equitable education.
What is equitable about children in Westport having classes under 20 students and a child in Bridgeport in a class of 30 children? Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had this to say about the educational inequities that exist in our society and a school district’s dependency on local property taxes. He cites the fact that schools in the more affluent suburbs have “great schools” whereas schools in the poorer, inner-cities of our nation are “substandard.” Moreover, he advocates that the federal government needs to play a more active role in order to “make sure that those schools who need it the most get the funds that they deserve.”
Educators and parents in Connecticut are aware that Wentzell is a huge advocate of standardized testing in Connecticut. Moreover, when the inner-city schools do not score as well as their suburban counterparts, Gov. Malloy and Commissioner Wentzell are also advocates of closing public schools in cities such as Bridgeport with their low test scores and replacing them with charter schools.
Sadly, what also appears to be ignored by Malloy and Wentzell is the fact that the achievement gap between urban and suburban schools is more attributable to poverty more than any other factor, yet the Bridgeport teachers must bear the brunt and blame for the lower test scores and the inequities in school funding.
In light of the above, as a former educational leader with many years of experience and with a doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, I have an innovative research proposal for Wentzell’s consideration in order to help rectify the consistent underfunding of the Bridgeport Public Schools. I would propose a longitudinal research study beginning with the incoming kindergarten class in September of 2017 in the Bridgeport Public Schools and for the longitudinal study to continue for a period of 13 years when these kindergarteners will be graduating from high school.
My proposal would be for the State of Connecticut spearheaded by Education Commissioner Wentzell to apply for the funds from the federal Department of Education and from whomever is appointed as the new Secretary of Education in January of 2017. Hence these funds, if approved, would enable Commissioner Wentzell as well as the State of Connecticut to provide this federal funding directly to the Bridgeport Public Schools in order to provide a per pupil expenditure for the next 13 years that would exceed Westport’s per pupil expenditure in the amount of $5,000 annually.
In addition to lowering class size, the extra federal funds could also be used to provide other crucial resources in a typical public school that are commonly found in the more affluent suburban school districts. Hence, as part of the longitudinal research project those education officials conducting the research will examine standardized test scores and compare Bridgeport test scores for the next 13 years with other urban school districts in Connecticut such as Hartford, Danbury and New Haven who are not receiving the extra funding.
In addition, as part of the longitudinal research study, a comparison by those conducting the research will be made in the year of 2030 regarding the percentage of Bridgeport students in the class of 2030 who go on to accredited four year institutions of higher learning upon graduation as compared to other urban school districts in Connecticut who are not receiving the additional federal funding.
Needless to say, it will be interesting based on this study whether adequate funding of an inner-city’s school district will impact the achievement and graduation rates and, if successful, would also be a useful tool for the Federal Department of Education in Washington, D.C. to consider for other inner-city school districts in the nation.
Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D. is a former educator from Fairfield.