Public Education is Civil Rights Issue

By at February 17, 2012 | 8:15 am | Print

This month Governor Malloy unveiled an extensive education reform package during his state of the State address to the Connecticut General Assembly.

From the expansion of early childhood education, to teacher tenure reform, to an increase in ECS grants, to the establishment of a Commissioner’s Network (Alliance Districts made up of the state’s 30 lowest performing school districts), to the expansion of Charter/Magnet Schools and increasing state funding to those choice options. The Governor is also looking at how our institutions of higher education are preparing students to become educators and he has proposed teacher quality enhancement through career advancements, financial incentives and partial tuition “forgiveness” for students who graduate and want to work in low achieving districts.

While I view many of these proposals with optimism and hope for true reform and assistance to struggling urban school systems – I wonder how these proposals will be brought to scale. The achievement gap is more than an academic issue and the solution must be anchored in society’s response to it. This gap is assessed as the “distance” between minority students academic success and white students academic success (as measured and reported on from the results of one annual test) – when in reality it should be analyzed as the gap between rich and poor students. Often, in urban areas, poverty affects minority students to a greater degree than white students so the interpretation of the achievement gap gets muddied. To tackle the achievement gap (the distance between the haves and have nots) It will require a massive infusion of resources (personnel, facility upgrades, technology in every classroom, regulated class size, support for teachers and principals, building parent capacity, longer school days and a longer school year…and supplies!). These components must be offered to all students – not in silos and not to only a lucky few.

In New Britain this will require more than the additional $2.6 million in ECS proposed. What we need to offer are universal pre school, all day kindergarten with para support in every classroom and a capped class size, a longer school day, a longer school year and wraparound services for all our students and their families –not just pockets of students. This has long been our problem both at the local and state level – nothing is brought to scale.

Our district would require an additional $1.15 million to provide universal pre school. We would need an additional $2.4 million to provide universal all day kindergarten with paraprofessional support and a capped class size of 20 students. To provide a longer school year for all K – 2 graders, we would need an additional $2.26 million. These are recommended components toward reducing the achievement gap of both the Governor and Commissioner of Education – how to pay for it is the question. I suggested at our last budget meeting that we eliminate all expenses that are not contractual such as equipment, instructional supplies, office supplies and repair services. That would give the Board $4.4 million to put towards components of reducing the achievement gap…but we would not have any instructional materials for teachers and students. Our current limited budget for copy paper and toilet paper would be gone.

Brown vs. the Board of Education was settled by the Supreme Court back in 1954. Segregation in public schools was found to be unconstitutional, thus the separate but equal doctrine was overturned. Yet somehow today in 2012 we still have a system that separates people….not on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity but on the basis of wealth or the lack of it. In Connecticut we have 169 towns each operating their own schools and each providing to students what is can afford to based on town wealth. Families of means have the choice to live and work and seek a better way of life via affluent access. Those without means seek to make a life in areas that offer affordable housing, public transportation and community supports/inclusion.

As a State, we have been litigating the issue of equality in education for a long time. From Horton vs. Meskill 1977 to Sheff vs. O’Neill 1996 to CCJEF vs. Rell 2010. When are we going to adopt fairness and equality for all students in the State of Connecticut? Public education is a civil rights issue.



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