The following essay — one of four to be published this week — appeared in the recently released 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, Taking Stock: Considering the Future of Child Well-Being and Family Opportunity in Connecticut. It is published by The Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS), an affiliate of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT network, a group of child advocacy and research organizations using data to promote smart policies on issues affecting children and families. CAHS tracks and reports on indicators of child and family well-being.
As my home, Hartford has made me into the individual that I am today. Because I have been fortunate enough to rise to an office that allows me to serve the people that made me who I am, I am truly a product of my environment. Growing up in Hartford not only gave me a local perspective, but I also gained a more inclusive perspective because of the experiences I had in my youth, which were unique from any other area of Connecticut. These diverse experiences I speak of range from gentrification, to the wage gap, to mass incarceration.
Two pillars that stood firm throughout my youth were my family and my community. Family and community are an integral part of shaping the children of tomorrow. I believe that while the community did its part in raising our youth, the state did not meet them half way. This is one of the issues that prompted me to run for office, in the hopes of truly meeting the community half way. Too many children do not receive the supports they need, as children from low-income homes are more likely to have anxiety, stress and memory concentration impairment. As a state we must push to make both our communities and schools a safe haven for the youth.
The state of Connecticut has one of the highest per capita incomes in America yet still has trouble providing adequate opportunities for people in middle to lower income brackets. This can be seen in the inequitable funding of the local education system across the state. We live in a state in which some areas have low mill rates yet have highly funded schools, while at the same time we also have overcrowded schools that are constantly cutting back on staff and programs which are vital for the development of our children. Some school districts have the resources to fund a school two times over while others barely have enough to keep the lights on during the school year. If we truly value education as the cornerstone of any progressive community, this should not be a continual struggle.
This lack of funding in itself can shape the mindset of the children in the community. Children are observant; they realize that a disparity between communities exists, and from there they draw their own conclusions about which children Connecticut values. If these children do not grow up with adequate support at home and in school, we only have ourselves to blame for failing to care and nurture for children during the most vital years of their development. We must push for school reform as it is not just a fiscal issue, but an ethical one. It is about investing in our children – they are not a statistic but individuals who each have their own dreams. If we continue to shortchange their dreams, how can we hope for a better tomorrow?
Additionally, while education quality affects the potential opportunities of all children, we can’t ignore the impact of race, meaning that solutions to these problems must be created through an intersectional approach. Intersectionality should be a priority because an individual’s education is most-often connected to their future opportunities.
Furthermore, the restructuring of the family can also potentially impact the chances of these children later on in life. Many of these young people come from a single-parent home, and many unfortunately lack the support of an individual who will encourage them to push past the minimal expectations society sets for them. This helps to perpetuate the school yard to prison yard pipeline that plagues many minority communities. A lack of engagement with our youth creates high levels of incarceration and recidivism, issues that my own father faced. This makes the role of educators as role models even more important. Yet, the lack of funding and resources may prevent our teachers from reaching students who most need this guidance.
The inequitable funding and lack of resources for our communities is daunting. Nevertheless, as an advocate for education I look to the future with optimism. Among struggle I also see the bright smiles of our students, who face the world with hope and determination. As we continue the fight for better schooling and a fairer education funding system in Connecticut, I believe that the conversations we have today will create change tomorrow.
State Rep. Brandon L. McGee Jr. represented the Connecticut House 5th District.
CTViewpoints welcomes rebuttal or opposing views to this and all its commentaries. Read our guidelines and submit your commentary here.