“I said not my city, not my son, not my children, not these children” — these are the words of Bridgeport parent Jessica Martinez, who, last Tuesday morning retold the story of how she became active in the fight for educational equity to a room of over 300 onlookers.
Jessica is the lead plaintiff in Martinez v. Malloy, an ongoing federal lawsuit that challenges Connecticut’s cap on school choice seats. Last week, she spoke during the Annual Connecticut State Missionary Baptist Convention’s panel on education funding — telling the crowd that her mission is to engage and activate her neighbors.
“You see, the system will keep us oppressed,” said Jessica. “but we shouldn’t blame the system anymore because we know better, so it is up to us to change the system.”
Among other panelists were Pastor Abraham Hernandez; Former Bridgeport Board of Education Chair Rev. Kenneth Moales, State Senate Minority Leader Sen. Len Fasano and Black and Puerto Rican Caucus Chair Rep. Chris Rosario. A diverse group, all with important perspectives, but I wanted to share with my readers Jessica’s story in particular.
I’ve known her for awhile now through my work covering Bridgeport, but I didn’t know how she got involved in advocacy.
During the event, she told the crowd that after losing her job, several years ago, she began connecting with other parents who encouraged her to visit her son’s classroom. Her experience, seeing her son’s teacher struggle, was what opened her eyes to the inequity that plagues Connecticut’s education system — here’s a clip from the panel:
Why is this important?
The way we fund education in Connecticut is fundamentally broken — so broken, a State Superior Court Judge ruled it unconstitutional. In his ruling, Judge Thomas Moukawsher pointed out how absurd the system is:
“[T]he state spends billions of dollars on schools without any binding principle guaranteeing that education aid goes where it’s needed… The system cannot work unless the state sticks to an honest formula that delivers state aid according to local need.”
Part of the reason this system has been allowed to continue is that those in power don’t want things to change. For example, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) has slammed nearly every plan to redistribute education funding this session, promoting keeping the funding formula the same for this year despite the fact, that will have consequences for severally underfunded districts like Bridgeport.
That’s where parents like Jessica come in.
When Jessica says “our children are in limbo” referring to the way we fund schools of choice, there’s urgency to that because she’s talking about her son and her community. She’s talking about what she had to do get her son out of a school that wasn’t meeting his needs.
The CCJEF v. Rell ruling should have been a wake-up call, yet, right now, it’s looking like state leaders doesn’t have the political will to do anything about it. Decisions at the state capitol are so often based on political patronage and not what’s best for children.
That’s why the voices of parents like Jessica ‘s are so vital.
To check out from the full panel, here’s the audio from the panel: