Sunday, May 10, marked the beginning of National Charter Schools Week and as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Charter Schools Association, I would like to take a moment to highlight our state’s great public charter schools. First and foremost, I want to applaud all of the teachers and students that have swiftly transitioned into distance learning; your hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed!

Ruben Felipe

I would also like to commend the tireless efforts of those who have continued to support our state’s more than 10,800 public charter school students throughout this pandemic. It is thanks to these dedicated educators, parents, elected leaders, volunteers and advocates that our students are persevering throughout this pandemic. Although our students are working hard to persevere, many are hindered by the inequities this pandemic has exposed.

During this difficult time, I have been inspired by the creativity and commitment the Connecticut charter community has shown in serving its students and communities. We are in an unprecedented pandemic, and Connecticut’s public charter students, families and staff are rising to the occasion, as are many of their district counterparts. The charter model allows our state’s 22 public charter schools to quickly adapt and implement innovative solutions during a crisis. With nearly every K-12 student in the state forced into distance learning with little notice, the flexibility of the charter school model helps our schools meet the needs of their students and communities impacted by COVID-19.

Our schools have gone above and beyond to serve students, families and their communities during the pandemic. Many public charter schools and traditional public schools have created and implemented community programs to ensure that the needs of our most underserved communities are met during these trying times. Among these initiatives are meal deliveries for families in need, PPE donations, car parades to boost student morale, and so much more.

…black and brown children throughout Connecticut have been, and continue to be, systematically disenfranchised.

Above all else, these schools are prioritizing the continued education of our students. Even through school closures, these schools have continued to deliver excellent results for kids, are closing the achievement gap, and need the support to continue serving the state’s underserved communities. On average, public charter schools students have consistently exceeded grade-level expectations.

While this pandemic has certainly highlighted the abilities and benefits of public charter schools, it has also brought to light something we have all known for a long time: that black and brown children throughout Connecticut have been, and continue to be, systematically disenfranchised.

Historically, our state has operated a separate and unequal system of public education based on a student’s zip code, race, and class. This system is the result of decades of drastically underfunding public schools in conjunction with an underhanded political agenda, driven towards eradicating the freedom of school choice.

In Connecticut’s public charter schools, 80% of charter students identify as black and brown and more than 65% as low-income. Few parts of the Connecticut community will be as heavily impacted by this pandemic as the students attending our public charter schools, who have been identified as often being the most economically disadvantaged in our state. If we as a society do not take action to address these inequities and fight for our most vulnerable children, the direct and indirect effects of coronavirus will continue to have a hugely disproportionate toll on people of color.

Before this crisis, our state’s public charter schools were already severely underfunded  — allotting them just $11,250 per pupil —  and struggled to keep their doors open while serving our most poor and disadvantaged.

Coronavirus is a magnifier of existing inequality. At this moment, low-income families are inequitably endangered and relief has yet to reach so many that are in need.

As a community, we must stand up and tell our elected officials that the state budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable. In this time of crisis, education funding for all public schools must be a top priority, not an easy scapegoat for budget deficits.

I ask that you join me in celebrating National Charter Schools Week by reaching out to your legislator. Tell them why education funding must remain a top priority, especially during a time of crisis. We cannot allow our neediest community members to be treated as second class citizens. Ultimately, students that attend public charter schools reside in the same neighborhoods, and sometimes in the same households, as their public school peers. Please don’t allow these brilliant children to be forgotten as we work to repair our state from the damage this pandemic has caused.

Ruben Felipe is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Charter Schools Association.

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