NORWALK, Conn. — Leaders from faith communities across Fairfield County joined forces with several politicians at Grace Baptist Church in Norwalk to call for a change with Connecticut’s General Assembly in the way the state funds its public schools.
"I call on the General Assembly of our state to adopt an equitable funding formula by end of the 2017 legislative session," said the Rev. Richard Clarke of Bethel AME Church in Norwalk. He said the current system has let both parents and children down. "Students, especially student of color and living in poverty, graduate from high school unprepared for college."
The issue of inequity in state funding to schools came to a head recently after state Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher gave the state six months to change its current formula in the wake of a lawsuit.
The Rev. Lindsay Curtis led the call for action in a press conference on the steps of his church Monday.
The original case took a decade, and now an appeal of the decision has been filed by state Attorney General George Jepsen.
But the prospect of further delays in changing the education funding formula is alarming parents and communities, especially in low-income districts, the speakers said. Connecticut now has the worst achievement gap in the nation, several speaker pointed out.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results,” said the Rev. Carl McCluster, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport. “Maya Angelou said, ‘I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.’ It is time for us to do better!”
McCluster said the inequitable funding formula is “in fact and in effect, criminal.” He noted that it is not just a Norwalk problem or a Bridgeport problem. "It's a problem for all of us."
“I hereby call upon Connecticut state legislators to turn themselves in for certain incarceration, or take a stand like we do here today,” he said.
McCluster pushed people to “rise up over the unfair and inequitable education system, fueled by a cancerous funding formula.”
"No more time for excuses. No more time for talk. It's time for action," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff spoke of Moukawsher's ruling as a clarion call. "We need a great education for all our children, now and for generations to come."
He pointed out the economic impact of problems in the education system. "We can't fill jobs, we can't grow jobs organically, if we don't prepare our children for 21st-century jobs," Duff said. "We must prepare all children across the state of Connecticut."
Deputy House Speaker Bruce Morris of Norwalk applauded the clergy for taking a stand on education. "The State of Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the nation. We have to put legislators backs against the wall — do your job! The formula has not been fair. This is a clarion call to join the fight, join with us. Let's not leave black and brown children behind," Morris said.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican from Wilton, added her voice to the call. "This is not new, folks! This is something we've been trying to do for a long time. Now it looks like maybe everyone's going to play ball," she said. "We have to, in the face of such stunning inequity."
"Absolutely all children deserve a quality education," she said. "In a state like Connecticut, it is absolutely shameful that that doesn't happen. We shouldn't need a court decision to fix this. It's not a partisan issue. it's time we all stand together for the sake of our children and the future of this state."
Curtis introduced Jane Alexander, CEO of ConnCAN, which seeks to improve education outcomes for Connecticut’s kids, as a key partner in the issue.
"Far too many students are not set up for success," she said. "We can no longer fund schools arbitrarily. Education funding policies must promote education, opportunity and fairness."
"By 2020, 70 percent of jobs in Connecticut will require college educations," Alexander said. "Only 39 percent of 11th-graders are ready for college math. Way too many need remedial classes for college. In Norwalk, 65 percent of incoming students needed remedial courses in college."
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