I am a mom, an education advocate, and a native of Connecticut. During the pandemic, public schools in my state have struggled mightily to meet the needs of students and families. During this difficult time, I’ve been heartened by the nimbleness of the charter school sector.
Although my child did not have the opportunity to attend one, I can see that these innovative public schools had the flexibility to pivot when they were forced into remote learning and are uniquely set up to meet the needs of families. They continue to implement new technology, teacher training and new curriculum. Sadly, they are available to far too many families who need them.
Congress will soon start to vote on how much federal funding, if any, will be available next year to start and replicate innovative public schools through the Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant. In Connecticut, there are 21 charters serving about 11,000 children, and there are thousands more students who would attend a charter school if one were available to them. I recognize that charter schools are not for every child, but every child should have the opportunity to access the quality education happening in these schools. Unfortunately, because of limited access in Connecticut, my child is one of the thousands who didn’t have the opportunity to attend a charter school.
Since establishing charter schools in 1996, Connecticut has never applied for federal funding to provide these public schools with federal dollars like other public schools. Instead, Connecticut is one of 14 states that provides start-up grants to open new buildings. Once they’re up and running, charter school students receive less funding than students in district public schools even though charter schools are always public schools. It’s a new type of classism, and the decision-makers behind this tiered system in our state should be ashamed of themselves for treating charter school children like second-class citizens.
I’ve witnessed first-hand how communities, particularly those that serve Black and brown families, are benefiting from high-performing charter schools in our state. They serve as options for Connecticut’s families looking for a school structure that best meets the needs of their children, and the demand grows every year, not just here in our state, but across the country. There are 5.5 million children across the country who are waiting for the chance to attend charter schools. The more high-quality public school options they have, the better. Yet every year CSP funding is put on the chopping block, leaving families in limbo.
This past year reinforced to educators, students and their families that education is not business as usual. We can’t keep pushing our kids back into schools that never worked for them in the first place. Now more than ever, we need support from Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen.Chris Murphy to maintain and strengthen CSP funding.
One of the phrases that has become synonymous with the pandemic is “we can’t go back to normal.” This couldn’t be more true for our children. Parents who were already frustrated with their lack of options for public education grew even more so during the pandemic because it amplified significant inequities. With children learning remotely, parents are recognizing what their children need to learn and thrive, and they’re looking for options to meet their very specific needs.
New charter schools resulting from funding the CSP could renew a sense of hope for these parents and give their children a shot at success. Isn’t this what we want for all of our children?
Maintaining and growing the CSP would allow new schools to open that meet COVID safety measures like proper ventilation and enough space for distancing. These new schools would be equipped with the type of technology educators realized they desperately needed during the pandemic, and prepare our kids for jobs in the future. It can’t be stated enough just how much the pandemic revealed the abysmal lack of technology for many of our Black and brown students who live in underserved communities. Additionally, funding from the CSP could allow new buildings to open with outdoor structures to learn outside.
In my 15 years of working as a parent advocate in public education, I shouldn’t have had to keep saying that charter schools are public schools too, and all our children deserve the opportunities and resources afforded to public school students.
For the sake of all kids in our country, I’m pleading with Rep. DeLauro and Sen. Murphy to protect CSP funding. Our families are counting on you to not let it fall below its current level so that more families can give their children the rich opportunities that countless parents can attest to, and I wish I had for my own child. Our kids are depending on it. They have already lost enough.
Gwen Samuel is the President of Connecticut Parents Union.