Families for Excellent Schools adding its voice to Connecticut education funding debate
NEW HAVEN >> With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other key lawmakers signaling a desire to change how the state of Connecticut allocates its funding of public schools, proponents of charter schools are asking for a larger piece of the pie.
Approximately a dozen parent ambassadors with Families for Excellent Schools, a charter-aligned nonprofit founded in 2011, spent Tuesday afternoon placing calls to lawmakers’ offices requesting more funding per pupil in state charters.
On average, charter schools receive $11,000 per pupil, approximately $4,000 less than what the average Connecticut student receives annually.
Families for Excellent Schools reports that it had 1,500 families rallying on the state Capitol in 2015 as well as 36 meetings between parents and legislators during the 2016 session. More than 800 calls to legislators asking for greater funding to charter schools have been placed since February, the organization reports.
Ruben Felipe, state political director for Families for Excellent Schools, said Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s ruling in CCJEF v. Rell that the state legislature must devise an adequate funding formula for educational funds is monumental to the school funding debate, and charter advocates believe they have a right to be included in the conversation.
“If it’s not a turning point, then it’s at least an important validation for what charter families have been saying for decades,” Felipe said.
Present at Families for Excellent Schools’s James Street office were parents from several Connecticut cities interested in getting their children into charter schools or expanding access to charter schools.
“We help parents advocate on their own behalf,” Felipe said. “We don’t believe in the division of parents.”
Although there is a looming deficit at the state level, Felipe said Families for Excellent Schools is encouraged by the efforts of its own membership to have elected leadership address the funding of charter schools.
“Hopefully, by the end of the session, we have a formula that is need-based and inclusive of all schools of choice,” he said. Moments later, he checked his computer and expressed disappointment to learn the state Appropriations Committee adjourned without calling for a vote on a budget. The committee deadline is Thursday.
Chris Mercer, a parent from Norwalk with one daughter in a magnet school, said he has been waiting for two years to get his daughter into a charter school, so many he couldn’t name just one in particular.
“I think she should have a chance,” he said.
Mercer said he called the offices of Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, on Tuesday. Felipe said the issue of funding charter schools is a bipartisan one to Families for Excellent Schools.
“I feel all schools need proper funding,” Mercer said. “Public schools should be funded the same way.”
Kim Hart, a New Haven parent, said she has two sons, one who graduated from a traditional public school and one current freshman at Amistad Academy. She said she’s been involved in parental advocacy for charter schools ever since her youngest son was in kindergarten because of how impressed she is.
“The thing that gets me is they are a college preparatory school,” she said. “I went to his orientation and the facilitator said he would graduate college in 2024. My son is a freshman, but he’s always been called the class of 2024. It’s that kind of college mindset.”
Lee-Ann Petruzzelli, another New Haven parent with two children in local charter schools, said the push for college has been important to her, especially as she has seen her stepson, an Amistad Academy student, get accepted to multiple Ivy League schools. She said she was heartened by the state Board of Education voting to renew the school’s charter for three years as a potential vote for sustaining state charter schools.
“Fair funding is our chief concern, and we’re going to keep pushing for it,” Petruzzelli said.
Although Hart’s son is currently enrolled in his preferred school, Hart said she would like all students to have the ability to choose schools.
“If I don’t beat the drums, who will?” she said. “We are still fighting for equal funding.”
Mercer said he was unsure as to whether the lawmakers he was calling Tuesday could be persuaded, but he was still secure in making the calls.
“I have a voice, I’m just not sure if it’s heard,” he said. “I do see things changing.”