Here is some summer required reading for state legislators.
Originally published in the New Haven Register, A group of nine Bridgeport teachers wrote a powerful letter describing how the conditions at chronically underfunded schools gradually tear down the self-worth of students.
While discussing how little Bridgeport spends per-pupil—$13,933 compared to Hartford and New Haven which spends $19,4342 and $15,936, respectively— Roy told Bridgeport BOE members that,“Policymakers need to hear specific examples about what is happening in the districts. … Too many don’t realize the realities Bridgeport Public Schools face every day:”
In some Bridgeport schools, teachers are limited to two reams of paper per month. For a teacher of 120 students per day, this is 2 sheets of paper per student per week. A teacher who wants to read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” on Monday can only print copies for one-fifth of his students and will have to forgo a printed homework assignment.
Classes lack frogs to dissect, novels, lab kits, classroom decorations and prizes, leaving teachers to decide between purchasing these supplies for their students out of pocket or going without them. In one elementary computer classroom, students didn’t have chairs that would allow them to reach the keyboards, leaving their teacher to fashion booster seats from leftover carpet squares a local store was willing to donate. Sitting atop someone else’s surplus, kindergarteners quickly become used to feeling unimportant.
All reading must be done in class because schools do not have enough novels for children to have their own to take home at night. This, of course, limits students’ ability to read outside of their school day, further contributing to the gap between them and their suburban peers.
Computer access is limited, with some classes having as few as six computers for 29 kids. As many students do not have Internet access at home, all work time on projects must be completed in class, sharing these few computers. Our students then leave high school not having learned the basic computing skills necessary for postsecondary success.
Health classes lack resources, such as baby infant simulators, that might help prevent teen pregnancy in a city where the teen birth rate is more than double the state average.
In May, one high school discontinued all after-school activities, with the exception of sports, because paying the security guards necessary to keep the school open past 2:30 p.m. was no longer in the budget. This same budget depletion also led to the cancellation of the school play, “Androcles and the Lion,” after a music teacher had, in his free time, revised it to fit the context of present-day and held auditions and rehearsals.
A lack of crucial support staff such as guidance counselors, social workers, and paraprofessionals leaves teachers filling those roles, thus diverting their attention from lessons and weakening their impact. In one high school, just two English language support specialists are responsible for students who speak 18 different languages.
Once they have enough experience, teachers often leave for a district that can pay them more, because why would you make $42,000 a year in Bridgeport when you can make $52,000 per year working in a school with more resources in Trumbull? This leaves Bridgeport students, who often need the most supports and highest-quality teachers, with the newest and most inexperienced teachers.
The fact that the Bridgeport School District — where 99 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 86 percent of students are black or Hispanic — spends less per-pupil than two-thirds of the districts in the state of Connecticut, where only 37 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 36 percent of public school students are black or Hispanic, is a disgrace and has a real, frustrating, exhausting impact on teachers and students daily. Additional funding, whether it be from the local or state level, is critical if the students of Bridgeport are ever to realize the dreams that their suburban counterparts are born with at their fingertips.
The schools of Bridgeport’s surrounding suburbs have novels, and frogs and school plays. The schools that many of the teachers in Bridgeport attended had novels, and frogs, and school plays. Why not Bridgeport’s? If our society wants to claim that, regardless of where a person is born, he or she can succeed, it needs to eliminate this disparity.
Lack of self-worth isn’t just something you can see in a young person’s eyes. You can feel it in a classroom, and it intensifies as students grow older and begin to believe that the lack of funding in their district — which they see when they compare their own school to the schools they visit during away games — means that society has determined investing in their potential is not worth the dollars. This lack of self-worth further propels a cycle of underperforming and underfunding, thus contributing to a community-wide cycle as students join generations of adults who have already learned the same lesson.”
The full letter from Bridgeport teachers can be found here. Also, If you want to check out Roy’s presentation on school finance, a video of it can be found here.
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