Mud, cold and persistent rain could not stop about 6,000 children, parents and teachers from gathering on the New Haven Green yesterday in a rally calling for improved urban public schools around Connecticut.
The #ForEveryChild rally, organized by a coalition of educational groups, consisted mostly of charter school students from Connecticut. Students and parents, dressed in neon-yellow shirts emblazoned with the “For Every Child” slogan, stood and listened to a succession of speakers, including parents, school principals, activists and students. Calling on government leaders to take steps to eliminate inequalities in the state’s public school system, speakers condemned the fact that 40,000 students currently attend “failing schools.”
“That’s not a statistic, that’s a crisis,” said Jack Bryant, vice president of the Connecticut NAACP.
Speakers emphasized that the inequalities in Connecticut’s public schools are interconnected with other major socioeconomic problems in cities across the state.
Benjamin Cruse, the principal of Hartford’s Achievement First Summit Middle School, referenced the deaths of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice as examples of frustrations mounting throughout the country. Later in the rally, Bryant led the crowd in the “Hands up, don’t shoot” chant that has become an emblem of recent protests.
“It tears my heart that over 40,000 students don’t have the support system they need,” said Ebony Pitts, a junior at New Haven’s Amistad High School, at the event. “Without support systems, those kids are taking to the streets and committing violent and illegal activities, and that’s not what we want.”
Cruse praised state and municipal leaders, adding that Gov. Dannel Malloy has always supported creating “great schools.” In 2012, Malloy signed an education reform bill that increased state spending on education by $100 million and created programs to improve the quality of some struggling school districts in the state.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said that Malloy has successfully increased funds for public schools, but should devote more resources toward a long-term goal of fixing the entire system.
Speakers at the event also underscored the importance of rectifying the inequalities present in Connecticut’s educational system, where affluent suburbs in Fairfield County and around Hartford have per-student budgets far greater than school systems in urban areas. Jesus Reyes, a senior at New Haven’s Common Ground High School, said that the failure to address disparities in access to quality education amounted to “letting inequalities reign supreme.”
“We want you to have the same chances as the kids from Greenwich, Conn., the same chances as the kids from West Hartford, Conn., the same chances as the kids from all the suburbs in Connecticut,” Cruse said to the crowd.
The thousands of students, parents and administrators who attended the rally were bused in, coming from as far as the Bronx. The Coalition for Every Child, a broad group of educational activist organizations, paid for most of the buses, which filled the streets surrounding the Green.
Charter schools were well-represented at the rally, which are a strong presence in the Elm City with institutions like the Amistad School and Common Ground High School.
Multiple speakers concurred on the effectiveness of charter schools in advancing the education of disadvantaged children. They also stressed that charter schools should be more readily accessible as an option for students and parents within the public school system.
According to a report released by the Connecticut Voices for Children, an educational advocacy group based in New Haven, in April, 97 percent of the Elm City’s charter school population are students of color.