Building Bridges Across State Lines Is Set to Transform Education in Connecticut

Commentary: New coalition between groups in Indianapolis, Connecticut aims to accelerate the growth of high-quality charter schools across the state.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice/Maybach Media

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The American public education system is unique to each state, shaped by differences in demographics, legislation, past and present community involvement, and more. Every state has its own challenges to overcome, as well as its bright spots. It’s critical that our public schools are shaped to fit their specific communities to ensure students, families, and educators get the tailored opportunities they need to succeed.

However, what would it look like to create a partnership across state lines that is grounded in a community’s history and needs while also incorporating knowledge and support from another region?

That partnership now exists between two organizations – one based in Connecticut and the other in Indiana – to drive an important goal: growing the number of high-quality public charter schools for Connecticut students and families.

This goal isn’t new for Connecticut. In fact, the state’s charter school law is nearly three decades old, and there are a number of dedicated advocates and organizations who work hard to grow and strengthen public school options for Connecticut families.

This new partnership, between Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity (LEAD) from Connecticut and The Mind Trust from Indianapolis, was created to add to the growing coalition of community members and leaders who want to see more high-quality public school options in the Constitution State.

LEAD’s work is focused on programs that empower the community, like English as a Second Language classes, youth services, health and financial literacy programs, and more. Its team is passionate about meeting families where they are to give them the resources they need to create a bright future, and LEAD was founded in part to support grassroots advocacy efforts in expanding charter school options — something its leaders continue to hear is needed from the families they work with.

There is no time to waste in moving the needle on expanding access to high-quality schools. According to a report from the Connecticut Charter Schools Association, during the 2023-2024 school year, more than 5,000 Connecticut students were waiting to enroll in a charter school. Additionally, in the 2022-2023 school year, 95% of all charter schools out-performed schools that serve the same student population in English Language Arts (ELA) and math on the SBAC, Connecticut’s annual state standardized assessment.

The need and desire for change is growing each year. When LEAD looked at how other states have expanded access, its leaders saw how innovation and strategic investment in proven models and leaders could work. That led the organization to Indiana and The Mind Trust.

The Mind Trust believes there are three essential elements to a great school: autonomy, accountability, and a leader with the talent to bring a vision of educational excellence to life. Since 2006, the organization has supported the launch of 15 education nonprofit organizations and more than 50 public charter and innovation network schools in Indianapolis that will serve more than 21,000 students when they are at full scale.

When it first started its charter school growth work in Indianapolis, The Mind Trust set out with the belief that to increase the number of public charter schools in the city it should both build up existing local talent and attract new talent to the city from other regions. Over the years, the resulting initiatives have received over 4,000 applications from education entrepreneurs across 48 states and 36 countries.

Indianapolis is now proudly home to locally grown networks that have been founded by some of the most qualified and effective school leaders in the country. As a result, researchers from Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Washington have all found that Indianapolis charter schools lead their students to significantly more academic progress than local traditional public schools.

In 2022, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that Indianapolis charter school students achieved 64 more days of learning in reading and 116 days in math, compared to their district school peers. Black students at Indianapolis charter schools had even more significant gains, with 86 more days of learning reading and 144 days in math relative to their district peers.

In 2023, the University of Arkansas found that Indianapolis, by far, is home to the most cost-effective charter sector in the country for both reading and math. Indianapolis’ charter sector has the largest ROI advantage out of any city in the study. For every dollar invested in Indy charter students’ education, they can expect to earn an average of $4.75 more than their traditional public school peers throughout their lifetime.

Through the new partnership, LEAD and The Mind Trust will work together to create a new locally designed fellowship that will give experienced school leaders the time and resources needed to launch new public charter schools in Connecticut.

The development of this fellowship must be done alongside families, educators, advocates and community members who have a shared vision for better public education in Connecticut. Leaders at both organizations are committed to listening to and working closely with the community to design this initiative, select fellows, and ensure its outcomes are in line with what is best for Connecticut students and families.

LEAD and The Mind Trust look forward to collaborating with the vibrant education community in Connecticut. Working together, we can all reimagine what is possible through partnership, innovation, and an unstoppable drive to do what is best for students and families.

Brandon Brown is CEO of The Mind Trust, an education nonprofit focused on transforming K-12 education in Indianapolis and beyond.

Lucas Pimentel is the CEO of Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity (LEAD), a nonprofit that works to expand educational options and civic engagement in the state of Connecticut.

Disclosure: The Mind Trust provides financial support to Maybach Media.

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