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Students Honor MLK, Update on “Right to Read,” SCOTUS Weighs Funding for Religious Charters

Students Honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over the long weekend, Connecticut citizens had the opportunity to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and think about our collective progress towards equality. As Hearst CT Media and the Hartford Courant have noted, Dr. King actually worked at a tobacco farm in Simsbury the summer before attending Morehouse College—accumulating formative experiences of a less segregated society that would help to change the course of history.

Nevertheless, Connecticut continues to have some of the most segregated schools in the country today. And the next generation is taking a stand.

In Cheshire, for instance, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities held the second annual Children's March, an event that encourages children to make a difference in the world. Students also made news in Norwich, where the NAACP Robertsine Duncan Youth Council led an MLK Day march. NBC CT's reporting notes that although school was closed for the holiday, it was still an important learning day for many students.

Implementation Progress Update on “Right to Read”

Yesterday, Connecticut’s Reading Leadership Implementation Council held a meeting with lots of updates on the CSDE’s progress in implementing the 2021 "Right to Read" legislation. (ICYMI, you can watch it in full here.) Dr. Melissa Hickey, the Director of the state's new Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success (the “Center”), reported that the Center plans to hire five Associate Education Consultants and one Administrative Assistant. They’ll need that team in place for all the work to come!

In October of last year, the Center released a list of state-approved early literacy curricula, from which each public school district will need to select a core program. Districts were given until January 13th, 2023 to fill out a “survey of intent,” selecting from among the following courses of action: (1) begin implementing one of the state-approved early literacy curricula on time, in July of 2023; (2) apply for a one-year extension, due to cost, with a commitment to implement by July of 2024; or (3) apply for a waiver to use a different evidence-based curriculum.

Yesterday, Dr. Hickey reported that 15 districts have already committed to implementing approved curricula on time, and another 50 intend to begin implementing after a one-year extension. Only 55 districts have indicated an interest in pursuing a waiver. The Center is waiting for a few more districts to submit their survey. In other words, more than half of the respondents (65 districts!) are on track and committed to bringing the Science of Reading to their students in the next 18 months! Kudos, CT districts!

SCOTUS to Weigh Funding for Religious Charters

Last year, the Supreme Court held that Maine had violated the First Amendment when it excluded religious schools from a private school choice program. If Maine was choosing to subsidize some private education, the majority opinion said, it could not discriminate against private schools for being religious. The holding is leading to questions this year about state charter laws that exclude religious charters. (Education Next has an excellent write up.)

Here in Connecticut, it’s a non-issue, as all charter schools are public schools of choice. They should be funded fairly through the state's Education Cost Sharing formula, while private schools—religious or otherwise—should continue to be privately funded. But nationwide, the growing conversation has the potential to impact public perceptions around school choice.

Just last month, Oklahoma’s Attorney General issued an advisory opinion arguing that a state charter school law likely violates the First Amendment because it requires charters to be nonsectarian. This has put the Sooner State on a path to the conservative-leaning Supreme Court. The 74 quotes Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, as commenting that, "Public Schools have never been able to, and cannot now, teach religion, require religious attendance to religious services or condition enrollment or hiring on religious beliefs." Amen.

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