CharterFolk Contributor Ruben Felipe – Report From Connecticut: If Breakthroughs Can Be Made Here, They Can Be Made Anywhere

Good Day, CharterFolk.

Today it is our pleasure to share a Contributor Column from Ruben Felipe, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Charter Schools Association.

I provide a brief bio below.

Ruben Felipe is the Connecticut Executive Director of the Connecticut Charter Schools Association. Ruben previously spent eight years as the deputy chief of staff to former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, where he led the mayor’s neighborhood revitalization initiatives, education reform agenda, and ran the mayor’s successful re-election campaign in 2011.

Ruben has nearly two decades of campaign experience in Connecticut on the municipal, state, and federal levels. A father of four, Ruben’s passion for educational equity was originally sparked by his own experiences growing up in Brooklyn, New York and furthered by his struggle to find a quality education for his children as a parent in Bridgeport, CT. Ruben currently resides in Stratford, CT.

Special thanks to Ruben for offering up such a through provoking post.  Let’s get straight to it.

Report From Connecticut: If Breakthroughs Can Be Made Here, They Can Be Made Anywhere


Nearly two years ago when schools were shut down, COVID-19 gave many a birds-eye view into their child’s education and as a result, communities demanded a change. How was it that some schools could flip immediately to virtual learning, sending home every child with a device and access to an educator while others were given nothing with a promise of a packet in the mail? 

As a father of four, who has sent three children through our state’s most underresoured public education system, I was called to fight for educational equity. After relentlessly searching to find a quality education for my children, I decided to put everything I had toward making the structural changes needed to close Connecticut’s opportunity gap. I have spent my career working toward change for my community. The most recent chapter of that commitment has been my service as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Charter Schools Association.

The pandemic made an already oppressive education system even more oppressive. Connecticut’s school funding system was infected long before the coronavirus arrived, causing an “education pandemic” in the form of inequitable funding and a lack of quality options.

For charter schools, the problem has been even worse – a funding model that had locked in per pupil revenues at $11,250 for many years, a level of funding thousands of dollars worse than even the most inequitably funded traditional public schools in Connecticut, despite the fact that Connecticut’s charter schools serve far higher percentages of Black and Brown students than the broader system.

If Black and Brown students aren’t seriously given the chance to thrive, Connecticut will be paying the price for decades and will lose yet another generation of brilliant minds.

As the world stopped and each of us were watching as the country grappled with its history of racism through murder of George Floyd, we knew that the moment had arrived to take on the task of changing the racist and classist education funding formula in Connecticut. We needed to meet this moment in time.

Our community has been tested. Through it all, we’re proud of the way the Connecticut education advocacy community showed up to fight – we united around common concerns and held our elected officials accountable.

Through the work of the Association, parents, school staff, community supporters, students, and alumni collectively fought for what matters most: our students. We made our voices heard.

We met to learn and plan. Every single public charter school community participated in our campaign. We educated 126 elected officials. We saw people testify at the end of a 14 hour hearing for Senate Bill 948. We gathered virtually for webinars, advocacy training, monthly organizing meetings, public hearings, and countless other collective actions and convenings. Parents, students, alumni, staff, and community supporters were featured in 13 publications across the state.

Over the last few years, the Education Justice Now Coalition

… made significant progress. Just last year, the Education Committee passed our ambitious funding proposal, S.B. 948, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority vote of 34 to 4. The Appropriations Committee chairs, Senate President, and Speaker of the House protected education increases during their budget negotiations. And on June 23, 2021 Governor Lamont signed the budget into law.

This resulted in a $160.5 million state funding increase for Connecticut public schools, with the majority of funds directed to schools serving Black, Latino, and low-income students. We increased weights for concentrated poverty and English Learners, lowered the threshold for what constitutes a high-poverty area and extended needs-based funding to Connecticut’s 11,000 charter school students – 93% of whom are students of color and 65% are living in areas of concentrated poverty.

Bottom line: in the process of helping the entire public education system achieve greater funding equity, we helped Connecticut’s charter schools finally make progress toward greater overall funding equity relative to traditional public schools.

Restating the Problem

For too long, our state’s students— especially Black, Brown, and low income students — have not gotten the full funding they deserve.  In fact, a $713 million racial funding disparity persists in our public school system.

When you say “Connecticut,” people assume “wealth.” But the state that serves a population of students similar to the size of Los Angeles Unified School District has divided itself more than 200 times.

The divisions are overwhelmingly based on race and class, making Connecticut one of the most segregated and inequitable states in the country.

This is not ok – it is an urgent challenge we need to address. No student should ever be receiving less than they need. That is doubly true for our state’s most underfunded public school students, the 11,000 learning in public charter schools. 

Without strong education funding policy changes, Connecticut’s families, communities, and most importantly, students cannot thrive.

Looking Forward

This past week, the General Assembly headed back into Legislative Session. We are gearing up for another fight for investment in our communities to create equitable opportunities.

In the coming weeks and months, as community members, parents and educators, we will continue to advocate for responsive solutions from our state leadership for the challenges facing students, many of whom are struggling due to decades of underinvested schools, extended remote learning, sudden school closures and the social and emotional strains of this pandemic.

Our Solution… is the Way we do the Work…and the Policy we are Trying to Pass

The Education Justice Now Coalition is the leading voice in Connecticut for education choice, equity and fairness for the students, educators, and families who are part of our public school community. We are collectively committed to dismantling structural racism in education and most importantly improving outcomes for all students in Connecticut.  And all our organizations represent or engage key constituencies: the people closest to the problem. In my opinion, our coalition’s success in bringing parents’ and community members’ voices into the work is what is making this chapter of advocacy more effective than any that have come before.

In Connecticut, one of the wealthiest states in the country, there is a $713 million funding gap between districts primarily serving white students and those serving students of color. This leaves nearly 80,000 students without the resources they deserve, and leaves districts and charter schools facing endless one-off battles for funding. Their experience in our public schools, though they are critical to the future of our state and world, is devalued.

Our campaign was developed because coalition members listened to community voices. In every way, the voices of those most affected are at the forefront in this historically inaccessible space by submitting public testimony, meeting with legislators, and completing grassroots lobbying tactics. We uncovered the issues our members and constituencies wanted us to tackle – the inequity in the way we fund and support our public school system.

The changes we are advocating for together will permanently improve education funding, meaning more Connecticut kids will have access to quality education at the school of their choosing, while also supporting the educators who do this work. It also means that more public schools will be able to meet student needs, which will drive our economy, and much more.

All this evidence points to one conclusion we can never forget:  our success depends up making sure that we are advocating for the right policies and we are advocating for them in the right way, bringing voices from the community directly into the work.

Remembering We Focus our Future Efforts Around Hope

We look forward to working with the Governor’s administration and the state legislature to address the inequities that persist in our state’s public education system and to ensure that all public school facilities meet the standards of safety in the “new normal” of the COVID and post-COVID world.

Over the next three years, we will be successful if a state budget is passed by the Connecticut General Assembly and signed into law by the governor that closes Connecticut’s $713 million racial funding gap; funds all public schools through a need-based formula that includes magnets, charters, and vocational agriculture schools and district schools.

Lately I have been reflecting on the 25 years of public charter school education in Connecticut. An entire generation of children have experienced our public education system in that time. While last year marked significant progress in the fight for equitable education funding for all students, however, much more work is needed in order to eliminate Connecticut’s $713 million racial funding gap. As an Association, CTCSA will continue its fight for a comprehensive, long-term solution for education funding as part of the Education Justice Now coalition. As I reflect on the power of the last 25 years and consider what the Connecticut charter school sector and public education system could be in the next 25, I am deeply proud of our successes thus far. I wanted to share our story not to be prescriptive, but because I am humbled by the mission of our work and know there are many of you out there like me who want to innovate and build a fair system for all kids. And I assure you, if breakthroughs can be made in Connecticut like we have made in recent years, they can be made anywhere.

Together, we are the proud legacies of the powerful individuals, networks, and organizations who have impacted our own lives, and worked to achieve transformative public education in our state for many years. We come from and represent communities all across Connecticut. We believe a better future is possible, one in which students experience an education that meets their needs, regardless of where they go to school or where they live.