The past two years have marked one of the most challenging periods in modern education history. From the devastating COVID-19 pandemic to an increase in school shootings, our students are reeling from the impacts. Throughout these challenges, our schools have provided a place of learning for our students, while simultaneously serving our communities in need.
However, as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education has made the damaging decision to sweep away nearly $1 million dollars in Charter School Programs (CSP) funding from eight public charter schools in New York, including Persistence Prep and Buffalo Collegiate right here in Buffalo.
This funding might be a blip on the radar for the Department, but it has never been more important for our schools. Access to this funding means the ability to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. It means providing our community members with the necessary resources for success and maintaining a culture where all students feel supported.
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For our schools, these funds are more than useful – they are essential.
We serve an overwhelming majority of Black and low-income students – many of whom lack the supplies for virtual learning. When the pandemic hit, we were able to equip our students with devices, as well as access to food and other vital resources. Federal funding was critical to these efforts, and thanks to the Department of Education, our student’s learning was never fully disrupted.
But now, the Department is sweeping funds that were already promised to our schools. In response, the New York State Education Department submitted a waiver request to the Department to allow NYSED to use available 2018 CSP funds to do right by our schools. Inexplicably, the Department has denied NYSED’s request.
This decision is a clear example of bureaucracy erecting obstacles to low-income kids’ access to high-quality education, even amidst the worst educational crisis we have faced in a generation.
The success of schools like ours is why public charter school enrollment is up by more than 14,000 (8%) statewide, despite the challenges of the past two years. Persistence Prep has consistently maintained a 100% parent satisfaction rating and has a 96% student retention rate over its first 4 years. Academically, 75% of our students made over 1 full year of reading growth, as measured by the DIBELS Assessment. At Buffalo Collegiate, our student retention rate was 95% last year, and our parent satisfaction on our most recent survey was over 90%.
However, the strength of our schools and our continued growth will not be possible without federal support. This is an issue of equity and it’s critical that our students aren’t made victims to bureaucratic games.
The Department can right this wrong today by reversing its decision and ensuring our schools receive the funds we were promised so that we can continue to create a pathway to opportunity for Buffalo students.
Brian Pawloski is Founder and Head of School at Buffalo Collegiate Charter School; Joelle Formato is Founder and Head of School at Persistence Prep Academy.