The third annual Charter Awareness Day at the State Capitol in Hartford saw approximately 100 students, parents and educators celebrating the diversity of their schools, while also demanding fairness and equity for those same schools.
**For Immediate Release**
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PRESS RELEASE: Third Annual Charter Awareness Day Celebrates Diversity, Highlights Need for Fairness and Equity for Connecticut’s Public Charter Schools
The third annual Charter Awareness Day at the State Capitol in Hartford saw approximately 100 students, parents and educators celebrating the diversity of their schools, while also demanding fairness and equity for those same schools. Charter students also took time to deliver more than 700 hand-written postcards to legislators, asking for fairness and equity during these last few weeks of legislative session.
This year, Charter Awareness Day fell within National Charter Schools Week which is currently being recognized nationwide. It also came on the heels of the very first charter educator being named 2017’s National Teacher of the Year, as well as a public charter high school, Amistad Academy in New Haven, being recognized as the No. 1 public high school in the state of Connecticut by U.S. News & World Report.
Still, public charter schools in Connecticut receive on average $4,000 less per pupil than district schools, and have been flat funded at $11,000 per pupil for the past three years.
“Charter schools have earned their place in the public education landscape and we deserve to be treated and funded as such,” said NECSN Connecticut State Director Jeremiah Grace.
NECSN Connecticut State Director Jeremiah Grace
To date, lawmakers have not passed a budget that includes charter schools in a funding formula fix or addresses the inequities charter schools face -- a point not lost on Charter Awareness Day participants.
“In Connecticut, we’re constantly fighting to ensure that not only are our schools protected from any further cuts, but that our schools are treated fairly and equitably,” said NECSN CEO Janeene Freeman. “Charter Schools in Connecticut face a significant funding gap when compared to district schools, despite our proven track record of successfully closing our state’s achievement gap and setting high standards for achievement in some of Connecticut’s most historically underserved districts.”
Students also voiced their concerns through the more than 700 postcards that were hand-delivered to the office of Governor Dannel Malloy and several lawmakers during Charter Awareness Day. Many contained messages asking for fairness, as well as the ability for their school to grow.
As written, Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget does not have enough funding for several charter schools to expand and add additional grade levels. It also lacks the funding needed for existing schools to be able to welcome more students into existing grades.
Jordan, a rising fourth-grader at Brass City Charter School in Waterbury wrote “I am looking forward to attending 5th grade at BCCS. Please allow my school to grow as planned.”
A student at Common Ground High School in New Haven wrote “In the state budget, please fund all public schools fairly. One funding formula for all!”
Students from Common Ground in New Haven, Bridge Academy in Bridgeport and Explorations in Winsted prepare to deliver postcards to Gov. Dannel Malloy's office
Schools also set up tables throughout the State Capitol corridor, distributing information and engaging with visitors to tell them about the magic happening inside their schools. Visitors were encouraged to fill out Charter Awareness Day “passports” by visiting at least eight tables where they could get their “passport” stamped to collect a prize.
NECSN Advocacy Manager Jose Alfaro (left) with a Charter Awareness Day passport winner
Lessandra Mendoza, a sophomore at Common Ground High School in New Haven, used this opportunity to discuss how much she loves attending her school and how the educational model there has helped to empower her.
"My experience at Common Ground has been really great," Mendoza said. "Since freshman year, this school has done a lot to raise student voices and how we can take leadership into our own hands and we can branch out into our own community... students can make an impact onto our communities no matter what we do."
Later in the morning, the Northeast Charter Schools Network presented Torchbearer Awards to six individuals whose hard work and advocacy have aided the charter school movement throughout the legislative session.
Caren Smith of Waterbury was one of those recipients. She is a mother of seven and her youngest child is a student at Explorations Charter School in Winsted. She has testified before the Black and Latino Caucus as well as the Appropriations Committee fighting for fairness for charter schools.
“As a parent, it’s crucial to show my kids how important education is,” said Smith. “The best way I can do that is to be involved with their school. But I don’t just do this for my kid, I do it for all kids. It’s not just about one child, it’s about all the children. So I’m proud to advocate not just for my son, but for all charter school students who deserve to see their schools funded fairly.”
Caren Smith (center) with NECSN's Jose Alfaro (l) and Jeremiah Grace (r)
Also honored was Dennis Morris, a parent of both an alumnus and a current student of Hartford’s Jumoke Academy.
School leaders Ronelle P. Swagerty of New Beginnings Family Academy in Bridgeport, as well as Dr. Barbara Ruggiero of Brass City Charter School in Waterbury also took home Torchbearer Awards.
“I’ve been with this struggle, this fight for charter schools in Connecticut for almost 14 years now. And I have to tell you, each year it gets more and more intense instead of the other way around,” Swagerty said, adding that the Torchbearer Award will encourage her to “keep up the fight.”
“Six or seven years ago, I didn’t know what a charter school was,” Dr. Ruggiero confessed. “Someone brought me to visit Amistad (Academy in New Haven), and I heard the statistic that Connecticut had the largest achievement gap in the country. And I honestly didn’t believe it. I was incredulous. How could such a wealthy state have kids in this kind of situation?”
Ronelle Swagerty and Jeremiah Grace
Dr. Barbara Ruggiero and Jeremiah Grace
State Rep. Gail Lavielle and State Rep. Christopher Rosario were also honored for their work in fighting for charter schools this legislative session. Both were on hand to receive their awards.
“We’re in a pretty dark time in the legislature right now, but whatever we do, we’re going to have to preserve and even heighten the things we do for education. There is nothing more important,” said Rep. Lavielle.
“Growing up on the east side of Bridgeport, my mother did everything she could to try to get me the best education. Unfortunately, there weren’t opportunities like charters or any school of choice when I was growing up. So, I’m going to make sure that I fight for that opportunity for others,” said Rep. Rosario.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle with Jeremiah Grace
State Rep. Christopher Rosario with Jeremiah Grace
Connecticut is home to 24 public charter schools which educate more than 9,000 students across the state. Currently, there are close to 7,000 names on waitlists for charter schools in Connecticut.
About the Northeast Charter Schools Network: The Northeast Charter Schools Network is the membership and advocacy organization for the more than 250 charter schools in New York and Connecticut. Its mission is to support and expand high quality charter schools.
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