By Jeremiah Grace
Almost everyone remembers the first day of school. Families rush to get all the necessary back-to-school supplies and new-school clothes. There’s the anticipation of a new teacher, and new friends. There’s a chance to start fresh and put your best foot forward.
For 9,303 Connecticut children, the new school year means heading to one of the 24 public charter schools in our state. Charter schools are public schools but they offer something different from what you might find at a district school. Most of our state’s charter schools are doing even better than other public schools. Many are diverse, community-driven options for families.
Here’s more about charter schools:
- They are free to attend, and open to any child in Connecticut. Admission is via a blind lottery, and the number of seats available at each school is set by the state.
- They are state-funded, and are subject the same academic standards as all other public schools.
- Many of them work in concert with local districts to host community events, share best practices and offer services like transportation and special education.
Unfortunately, there still aren’t enough available seats for children who want to attend a charter. Right now, there are over 3,600 children on waiting lists for charters across the state, along with a number of families willing to apply if a charter opens that is right for them. That’s why we continue to work with lawmakers, community leaders and most importantly, families to ensure our state continues to allow charters to thrive.
So what makes charters such an attractive option? Why are families choosing them in droves?
First off, charters give parents a choice in where they send their kids to school. Charter schools are public schools, but they offer something different. Parents deserve the opportunity to send their children to a school that fits their needs and does what it takes to help them succeed.
Charter schools offer another option to those families who don’t have the luxury to move or pay for private school.
Second, charters have the flexibility to innovate and experiment with the best ways to help their students achieve. Charter schools operate outside of the local school district, and are instead governed by their own school board. That allows them to more easily establish longer school days or years, adopt or create their own curricula, and use new ways to recruit, reward and retain teachers and administrators (20% of charter schools have unionized teachers). Some kids learn differently from others—and charters provide an alternative that many families relish.
What’s more, all of Connecticut’s charter schools currently reside in communities that the state has designated as low-performing. Charters are offering something new and better to the children who aren’t being served well by the status quo.
Along with all of this, charter schools are also the most accountable public schools there are. Every three to five years, charters go through a tough and thorough renewal process. If they’re not hitting their academic or financial goals, they close.
The vast majority of our charters are getting the job done. In fact, according to the state, over 80% of public charter schools do better than their local school districts in English Language arts and over 60% of charters do the same in in math.
There are so many phenomenal examples of schools doing great work. Schools like Common Ground in New Haven, ISAAC in New London, Side by Side in Norwalk, and Jumoke Academy in Hartford have families lined up year after year to enroll their children.
Our state’s charter schools are part of the fabric of the community. They aren’t only educating, but they’re also teaching their students to be civic-minded. Earlier this month, all six charters in Bridgeport led a second annual community cleanup, working together to give back to the Park City.
All of the charters in those cities will be leading the effort to partner with their community and beautify their cities.
More families and communities deserve the kind of opportunity that charter school children have this school year. We proud to continue working with communities, lawmakers and educators to ensure that becomes a reality.
Jeremiah Grace is Connecticut State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the non-profit membership association for public charter schools in Connecticut.