Hartford and Connecticut are still lamenting the death of State Rep. Quentin Williams to a wrong-way driver on January 5 after attending the governor’s inaugural ball. Much honor has been paid and will be paid to this vigorous and energetic legislator from Middletown.
From afar, what has been missing are concrete ways to honor his life and complete some of Williams’ work in a field that he was passionate about: public charter schools.
Williams was the director for advocacy and policy for the Excellence Community Schools, which had applied for and won approval for the Stamford Charter School for Excellence and opened in 2015. SCSE is now one of the top public schools in Connecticut.
There were 921 people who signed a petition against granting permission for the SCSE to open along with opposition from the Stamford Board of Education. They were all wrong. SCSE for kindergarten through eighth grade has done so well for its scholars that it has left its peers in the dust for reading, writing and arithmetic. These are now called English language arts and mathematics, but the goals are the same: learn to read, read to learn and math mastery.
Williams did not stop there, in August, 2017 he submitted a 239-page application to the Connecticut Department of Education to create another Excellence Community School in Norwalk, the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence. In fact, Rep. Williams is the top-listed founder on the first page of the application and the sole signatory for the application on the second page and again on the last page of the application, page 239, appendix K, statement of assurances.
The Connecticut Department of Education approved NCSE to become a public charter school the following year in 2018, the year Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz were both first elected to their respective positions. Last year, they were re-elected and yet during their entire tenure, they have failed to ensure that a line item to open NCSE was contained in any budget passed by the Connecticut General Assembly and signed by the governor.
This is not surprising for a state run by white progressives, but it is disappointing nonetheless. In Connecticut the 20-plus public charter schools that do operate, educate primarily high-needs Black and Hispanic students. SCSE is no different and the anticipated student body for the NCSE was projected to be similar demographics. These are educationally underserved communities not because of the dollars spent but because of the limited educational options and choices available to these students.
Hartford is good at talk, but if these heartfelt words of honor bestowed on the late Representative Williams by the power brokers of Hartford (as well as our federal representatives) are to mean anything, they should be followed by action.
Here are eight concrete steps to honor the life and work of Rep. Williams:
1. Publicly honor the Stamford Charter School for Excellence, for which Rep. Williams had worked for years as their director of advocacy. Reach out to Charlene and Denniston Reid, Vikas Kaushal, Jacques Michel, Tisha Markette, Marquitta Speller and to Aya Wakamatsu Taylor and thank them by proclamation and invite them to consider other alliance school districts in Connecticut for their teaching model.
2. The house and senate of the General Assembly could pass a budgetary line item so that the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence can open and send that budgetary line item to Governor Lamont for his signature.
The opponents of school choice for high-needs Black, Hispanic, white, Asian and other high-needs students will point out that the NCSE isn’t ready yet as they don’t have a facility or additional funding lined up or some other reason not to do anything. Let us know what you can do and not what you cannot do.
According to a 2022 application to the U.S. Department of Education by Excellence Community Schools for federal funds for NCSE, State Sen. Bob Duff, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, all white progressives, submitted letters in support of federal funds for NCSE, including the superintendent of the Norwalk Board of Education. The Norwalk branch of the NAACP had submitted a letter in support of NCSE in its initial application to the Connecticut Department of Education years earlier.
3. Our two leading white progressives, Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, should make a journey to the physical offices of Excellence Community Schools in the Bronx to thank them for the SCSE and their commitment to teaching young scholars in Connecticut from all walks of life.
The governor and lieutenant governor are encouraged to bring as many legislative leaders with them as they can to underline the seriousness of what Excellence Community Schools means to Connecticut.
As our two leading white progressives have not pushed funding through for either the NCSE nor the public charter school in Danbury, founded by Latinos for Equity and Diversity, since their election in 2018, I am hoping that the governor and lieutenant governor can now stand up for and speak out for educational choice for high needs black, Hispanic, white, Asian and other high needs students against the machinations of the public teachers unions, the strongest political faction in Connecticut, who work tirelessly to undermine school choice and the funding of public charter schools.
Granted, it is hard to become the governor or lieutenant governor of Connecticut as a Democrat without the support of the overwhelmingly white, suburban and rural teachers unions. The teachers unions put the teachers first, unions second and students third. It is time to put our students first.
4. As a show of good faith to all of our public charter schools, who have been limited to only about 2% of our K-12 public school students by white progressives with about 6,000 mostly high-needs black and Hispanic students on wait lists to get in, and to honor the important work of Rep. Williams, the General Assembly and the governor should pass and sign a budget line item to open the Danbury charter school, founded by Hispanic immigrants from South and Central America, and also approved by the Connecticut Department of Education in 2018.
The opening of this school has been opposed by white progressives, led by State Sen. Julie Kushner. While legislators of color and their allies push the Sisyphean rock of school choice up the hill to increase school choice for high-needs students in Connecticut, white progressives, led, in my opinion, by socialist-Democrat Kushner, wait at the top of the hill to roll that rock of school choice back down the hill.
Kushner has been successful in her effort to block the legislative funding and opening of the Danbury charter school. Our compliant media in Connecticut, mostly run by white progressives, are silent on how Connecticut white progressives screw over people of color and fail to examine how Kushner and her allies in the General Assembly thwart the efforts of these Hispanic immigrants to improve the educational chances of high-needs students in the Danbury area.
Instead, the media parrots the talking points of overwhelmingly white, suburban teachers unions against these recent immigrants. I challenge the compliant media to ask Kushner why it is that mothers place their infants into leaking craft and set off across shark-infested waters to escape the un-free, socialist Cuba to try to get to free market America? Why have over five million refugees fled the abject poverty and starvation of socialist Venezuela, which previously had one of the highest living standards in South America, but is now ruled by socialist Nicolas Maduro and the Cuban interior police who maintain control by arrest, torture, starvation and execution of Venezuelan citizens?
Why do we in Connecticut have to suffer socialist-Democrat Senator Kushner’s doctrinaire alliance to the interests of teachers unions over the interests of our own students? Stalin died in 1953. It is time to move on with more enlightened policies. Socialist-Democrat senator Kushner should know that in a socialist economy, where the state owns the means of production, there have never been any free labor unions, as everything must be done for the glory of the state and the party! Necessary and useful labor unions only exist in free market economies.
5. Only months ago, in October, 2022, I participated in a Zoom meeting with Rep. Williams on charter schools. He told us there were three things that he wanted help with: a) encourage our legislature to pass 2022 Senate Bill 229 concerning the process by which a charter is granted to and the funding for a new charter school, so that opponents of school choice cannot stop a new charter school in the legislature or in the governor’s mansion; b) include public charter schools in the educational cost sharing (ECS) formula from day one; and, c) increase the state funding of public charter schools beyond the current $11,500 per student.
Thus, the General Assembly can take concrete action and pass then-Senate Bill 229 this week and the governor can sign it next week. This way, white progressive legislators, like Kushner, in my opinion, cannot sabotage public charter schools, which were approved by the Connecticut Department of Education. I have no doubt that after passage of the appropriate legislation, the overwhelmingly white and suburban teachers unions will instruct their allies in the legislature and executive branch to figuratively back up a truck full of sand and dump it into the gears of getting a public charter school approved at the Connecticut Department of Education, so committed is their opposition to school choice.
6. Include public charter schools in the educational cost sharing formula from day one so that they are not perennially short of money. Consider that one of the best public schools in Connecticut, the SCSE receives only $11,500 per student from the state plus the City of Stamford recompenses SCSE for transportation and special education expenses. This is so much less than the per student expenditures of the City of Stamford which were in excess of $19,000. Public charter schools do more for less, but should not be defunded by the opponents of school choice.
7. In 2022 the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence applied for federal assistance with the intention to launch the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence this fall! Congressman Jim Himes and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy should contact the U.S. Department of Education to see whether it will be approved in a timely fashion and let the citizens of Connecticut know that they are doing just that. It should be a matter of public record they are trying to get the grant approved for a school that the late Rep. Williams was a founder of and the sole signatory of!
8. Lamont, Bysiewicz, Reps. Matt Ritter and Jason Rojas and Sens. Martin Looney and Bob Duff and U.S. Rep. Himes, Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy should commit themselves publicly today to do what it takes and within the power of their respective offices and in cooperation with Excellence Community Schools to see that the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence, of which Rep. Williams was the chief founder, will be funded and opened in 2023.
These are eight steps that our political leaders can take to concretely honor the work of the late Rep. Quentin Williams.
Peter Thalheim lives in Stamford.