Unique Brown, named in the Brown v. New York lawsuit, talks about why her school is special and the need for fair funding

Posted by on 10 / 24 / 2014 0 Reactions

by Jessica Mokhiber
Before Unique Brown was even old enough to attend school, her mother, Denise Stevens was doing her homework.
“I was researching schools when she was three years old,” said Stevens. “I needed to know what school in the Buffalo area would prepare her well, and help her learn. I was asking everyone I could talk to.”
Stevens decided on King Center Charter School – a high performing school with a massive waitlist of other children trying to get in. But Stevens was lucky, and she was able to enroll Unique in kindergarten there. Unique is now in 7th grade, and is a high honors student.
“I love my school, and I learn a lot. Social studies is my favorite subject,” says Unique. “I love my teachers, too. If they know we need help, they won’t keep going with the lesson until we all understand it. They do one-on-one help if we need it, and are always staying late at school for us.”
She talks about he principals, too, and how they know each student.  One of them even let Unique and a couple of her friends have tea parties in the principal’s office when they were in 3rd and 4th grades. Unique says the school felt like a home.
“The principals have played a very strong role in helping me and guiding Unique’s education,” said Stevens. “They are so in-tune with her academics.”
Unique has ambitions of attending Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Miami someday. She wants to be a pastry chef. Her mother knows she can change her mind as often as a young girl does, and she can be anything she wants to be. That’s because, according to Stevens, teachers are always talking about the importance of a college education.
“College starts in kindergarten. When you get kids as young as five or six thinking about college, it’s only natural that when they graduate high school, most of them will actually attend college. That’s what they do at King Center – talk about it all the time,” said Stevens.
One thing that baffles Stevens, though, is that she and other charter school families have to fight for fair funding for charter school students. As a plaintiff in Brown v. New York, she hopes the courts agree with her and the other families who are asking that the state’s current funding scheme be deemed unconstitutional.
Statewide, charter school students only receive 75% of what kids in traditional district schools receive. That gap is more glaring in some parts of the state. In Buffalo, charter students only receive 3/5 of what students in traditional district schools receive. That’s only 60 cents on the dollar. To make matters worse, the schools do not receive access to the state’s facilities funding.
She and her daughter are fighting for their fair share. They say it could expand the offerings of the charter schools, allow more students access to the schools rather than languish on wait lists, and money could go towards basic offerings like lockers, better lunches, and transportation for before and after-school activities. Unique would also like to see more foreign language offerings. Currently the school teaches Latin, but some of the children are interested in other options especially considering the global community in which they live.
“Charter schools have a bad reputation for providing a good education,” said Stevens. “I don’t get it. You would think lawmakers would be proud of the job the schools are doing and want to give the students what is rightfully theirs.”
But she says she is hopeful.
“I am excited about being part of this. I want my voice to be heard – for my daughter and for all of the state’s charter students. I really hope the courts listen to what we have to say.”


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