This back-to-school season, I am reflecting on the achievements of our state’s school system as well as the opportunity gaps that continue to stifle our Black, brown, and low-income students.
A recent report from WalletHub.com, covered by WFSB, touts Connecticut for ranking nationally as second in education, first in median ACT scores, fifth in student-teacher ratio, and third in reading scores. Despite these statewide achievements, Connecticut’s education system is a tale of two stories. Outcome disparities plague our Black, brown, and low-income students when compared with students who are wealthier or white.
Currently, Connecticut’s low-income students rank among the bottom third of states in eighth grade math score, only 27% of third grade Hispanic students met reading goals compared to 67% of their white counterparts, and currently only 70% of low-income students graduate from high school. These disparities have only been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and Connecticut’s $713 million funding gap between districts primarily serving white students and those serving students of color.
Public charter schools have played a tremendous role in supporting our state’s Black, brown, and low-income students. Since Connecticut’s first public charter schools opened 25 years ago, 21 public charter schools draw from over half of Connecticut’s districts and serve nearly 11,000 mostly low-income and minority students. Recently, Ajit Gopalakrishnan, the Chief Performance Officer for the state Department of Education stated that, “students in Choice programs are higher achieving and, in general, we’re seeing that growth in charters [charter schools] is stronger than some of the other Choice programs.” These schools have become beacons of hope in their communities and their long waitlists demonstrate their reputation and value.
Despite their needs, students with high educational needs who attend public charter schools — as well as those who attend district, vocational-agriculture, and magnet schools — are discriminated against in our state’s current education funding model.
Fortunately, there is a solution our state leaders can take up to increase equity within our school system: Reform our educational funding model to allow us to center the financial and educational needs of each student. This would discontinue the practice of funding students based on their zip code and the type of public school they attend, a practice that is directly fueling the funding gaps across low-income, Black, and brown communities.
By way of example, reforming our educational cost-sharing model in this way would ensure that a child who is economically disadvantaged and requires special education services and English language instruction would receive the weighted funding for these supports regardless of the type of public school his or her parents have chosen or their home zip code. This reform wouldn’t just help charter schools students, but all of the underserved and underfunded public school students across Connecticut.
Reforming our education cost-sharing formula would fundamentally transform our education system. It would begin to chip away at our state’s long held systems of inequality and start to close our opportunity gaps. Investments in our students are long term investments in our workforce and economy – and it is crucial that we seize on any opportunity to plan for our state’s future.
This school year, I look forward to working alongside Connecticut’s schools and state leaders to make this vision a reality.
Ruben Felipe is Executive Director of the Connecticut Charter Schools Association.