As a pastor at Faith Church and a resident of Danbury, I have seen firsthand how our city’s schools are some of the most crowded in the state.
In recent years, our city’s economy has boomed and our community has flourished. Families have flocked to Danbury and we value those from every background. We welcome new residents with open arms because we know that each new neighbor opens Danbury to new horizons.
But, our school system has been unprepared for this rapid expansion. Enrollment consistently exceeds predictions and results in overcrowded classrooms. Given the current health crisis and looming economic downturn, I believe Danbury will continue to be a beacon for families moving away from more crowded cities in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. We will continue to welcome our neighbors because it is the right thing to do. However, new residents will mean even more crowded classrooms.
Overcrowding is uniquely threatening right now. Scientific leaders will continue to push individuals to avoid crowds and high-density areas until there is a vaccine for COVID-19. Reopening schools is a uniquely difficult challenge, but doing so is critical for restarting our economy.
Schools failing to reopen is especially an issue for Latino families like the ones who attend Faith Church. Danbury’s population of English Language Learners has rapidly expanded. Does anyone honestly expect a student to be able to learn English as effectively at home in front of a tablet, separated from their peers? And, even if we were able to reopen schools in earnest, history shows that overcrowded classrooms nearly always lead to Latino students getting left behind.
This is why our governor and state legislators need to act quickly and take advantage of an educational opportunity that won’t last forever: Danbury Prospect Charter School. Opening the school presents an elegant solution that will increase the chances Danbury has to reopen safely while reaffirming our city’s commitment to education.
Danbury Prospect is run by an internationally recognized innovative leader in public school education, Prospect Schools. It would serve 110 sixth grade students in its first year and grow by a grade each year, ultimately serving 800 students in grades six through 12. Danbury Prospect’s charter application was approved in 2018 by the State Department of Education with high marks. What’s more, a generous local philanthropist has offered a $25 million grant to cover the school’s building costs — something Danbury taxpayers would otherwise be paying for.
But, despite the school’s accolades, the community’s needs, and the generous gift, our state legislators have not approved the school for funding.
The city cannot afford the $100 million in construction costs it would take to build an entirely new school. But if the state fails to act, the $25 million donation for Danbury Prospect may vanish.
Danbury is special because we welcome newcomers. Diversity is our strength. If you are willing to dedicate yourself to Danbury, then Danbury will open its doors to you. That attitude is good enough for every one of our residents — why isn’t it good enough for our schools? We must open Danbury Prospect to protect our students’ health and support their educational future.
Frank Vega is the Pastor of Faith Church in Danbury.