Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of Hispanic CREO (Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options), was the keynote speaker last Thursday at Charter Awareness Day in Hartford, Connecticut, hosted by the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
Excerpts from his speech are below.
I feel privileged to be with you this morning. I live in Florida now but I grew up in New York City and I know all about the struggles and challenges faced by urban parents and kids, especially when it comes to finding good schools.
I’m here today for two reasons.
One, I want to pay tribute to you and the work you do. I meet with a lot of policy makers and political movers and shakers as part of my job. But nobody is as inspirational and real as educators and parents dedicated to making schools work better for all children. So thank you for letting me visit with you and feed off your mojo.
Two, I’m here because I believe in school choice—in all its forms.
School choice empowers parents, helps children and builds our communities. School choice helps raise our children up.
School choice is particularly important for Hispanics and other families of color.
A survey released last fall by the Friedman Foundation found that for Hispanic voters, education is the second most important issue, surpassed only by jobs. Education scored significantly above even immigration.
That same survey found that Hispanics support charters by more than 2-to-1, which is greater than the nation as a whole.
Yet this fundamental right to a good school is treated as a second-class right in so much of our country, including right here in Connecticut.
I’m talking about funding. It makes no good sense why a child who attends a charter school—which is a public school after all—should receive only three-quarters of what his or her friend next door receives for attending a district school.
And it’s not just Connecticut. In New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, charter kids are funded an average of 68 cents on the dollar. Nationally it’s not much better.
We all know who this hurts. Across the country and in Connecticut, charter students overwhelmingly are lower-income children of color.
They’re from families that can’t afford to move to the finer neighborhoods with their elite public schools, and can’t afford to pay private school tuition—even the more modest tuition of local parochial schools.
This is systemic discrimination. A structural barrier stands between our children and the opportunity they all deserve and have every right to want.
If you ask me, barring a child from an equal opportunity to attend a quality school is every bit as insidious as making someone recite the Preamble to the Constitution before letting them cast a ballot.
It’s wrong and should be changed, in the interests of equal rights and equal opportunity to succeed.
Not only does this structural barrier hurt children and families who are choosing schools today, but it denies opportunity for children who want to attend charters but can’t because there’s not enough room.
Make no mistake. We need more choices, in Connecticut and across the country, to meet parent demand.
But these barriers have to come down. The economics has to change. Children and families who exercise their right to choose charters cannot be treated as second-class citizens any longer.
You can help change it by doing just what you’re doing today, and tomorrow, and next month and next year.
I’m more than proud to be with you today. I’m honored.
“¡Creemos en opciónes escolares!” We believe in school choice!