Last Wednesday, about 40 parents gathered in front of Geraldine Johnson School in Bridgeport, demanding the resignation of the school board member Maria Pereira. The situation has gotten so bad, that some are even asking for state intervention.
“This is only happening in Bridgeport, Connecticut,” said parent Wanda Simmons during the rally. “Our children are going to schools with rats, they’re going to schools with no resources, they’re going to schools with no SROs, they’re going to schools with no paraprofessionals.”
One thing became obvious as I spoke to parents at the rally. They’re frustrated. Not just with Pereira, whose antics some parents blame for causing the chronic infighting between school board members, but the system as a whole.
When I spoke to parents they described schools in deplorable condition, the violence their children see and experience on a day-to-day basis, and chronic stagnation. Many just wanted to see progress and an end to the constant bickering at school board meetings.
After the rally, one of the parents I interviewed asked me about the CCJEF v. Rell decision. She asked me what the impact would be and if I really thought things would change.
Her skepticism struck me.
Parents in Bridgeport are desperate for better schools, but shading that desperation is hopelessness. Many at the rally called Bridgeport the district that’s “left behind,” and they’re not wrong. There have been many promises of change, but none have stuck.
A few months ago, reporter Naomi Nix from the 74million.com dug into Bassick High Schools past, finding the school has been struggling for over 55 years. If you look at the last year’s testing data, zero students were proficient in math. Zero. Language Arts wasn’t much better, with only 15 percent of students meeting grade level goals. The dropout rate continues to hover around 50 percent.
There’s a reason Superior Judge Thomas Moukawsher used Bridgeport as an example of the inequity between school districts in Connecticut’s rich and poor towns. It’s because Bridgeport schools have been failing children for decades.
Moukawsher’s ruling has the real potential to be a game-changer, but only if state leaders actually act.
In addition to striking down the state’s funding formula, the judge’s far-reaching decision called for a major overhaul of just about every aspect of the state’s education system, from the hiring and firing practices for teachers, to special education spending, and school construction funding.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of Moukawsher’s historic ruling is that it requires the state’s education funding system to be “rationally, substantially, and verifiably” linked to student learning. This could be a revolutionary.
If the wording in Moukawsher’s decision is kept, it would force the state to focus not just on the number of desks or books in a classroom, but whether children are actually being educated.
On Thursday, only a day after parents rallied outside Johnson School, the state’s Attorney General George Jepsen announced he was going to file an appeal on the CCJEF ruling, arguing that Moukawsher overreached his authority.
In his press release, Jepsen insisted that his decision to appeal had little to do with the policy merits of Moukawsher’s argument, adding that “nothing about this appeal prevents policymakers from immediately addressing those challenges.”
The New York Times called Moukasher’s ruling “a cry from the heart on the failings of American public education.” In a lot of ways it was. There have been other equity trials in Connecticut, Horton v. Meskill and Sheff v. O’Neill, to name a few. So far the results of these rulings have ultimately fallen short.
This time, the judge didn’t hedge. He called state leaders out, admonishing them for their utter failure to provide all children with an adequate education, and then he gave them a deadline that reflected the urgency of the problem. 180 days may seem strict, but consider how long students and families have been waiting.
Appeal or not, Judge Moukawsher’s decision was a call to action. One that would be unconscionable to ignore. It’s time for state leaders to do the right thing.
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