That same courage is one of the core values that my partner Pagee Cheung and I inculcate in our students at MESA Charter High School, which we founded almost nine years to the day after I started Contracts class. We serve nearly 500 students, almost exclusively from low-income backgrounds, in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. These are neighborhood kids whose parents — many of whom are immigrants, work poverty-wage jobs and do not speak English — have chosen to send them to MESA because we offer a great education in a safe and supportive environment that otherwise does not exist in their neighborhood
In a district where barely 60 percent of students graduate from high school, MESA has graduated more than 90 percent of its students on time every year. One member of our 2019 senior class, the oldest daughter of Nigerian immigrants, received a full scholarship to Boston College. Another graduate, a self-described “proud, gay, Ecuadoran first-generation college student,” got a full ride to Skidmore. Quite simply, MESA is helping our students live the American Dream.
We are great admirers of your commitment to make this same dream achievable for all Americans. So it was disheartening to hear that your education platform includes eliminating federal funding for charter schools. MESA and other high-performing, high-quality charter schools like it could not operate without this funding. There is, perhaps, an assumption that all charter schools have wealthy donors who can make up funding shortfalls. But as a community-based school serving low-income families, we rely on federal dollars to pay teachers, purchase basic necessities and serve our students. Last year, MESA raised just under $45,000 privately; some parents associations in wealthier parts of New York City raised more than $1 million. It is hard to see how depriving schools like MESA of federal funding helps further your goal of reducing inequality.
Charter schools vary substantially in quality from state to state, and it is absolutely true that in some less well-regulated states for-profit and online charters have taken advantage of students and of the public. But we urge you not to confuse the charter climate in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s home state of Michigan with that of New York, where three high-quality authorizers provide a level of support and accountability that has led to a flourishing, transparent and responsive charter sector — one in which, not incidentally, for-profit charters are banned from opening. For students like ours, charters have been a life raft to grab onto when all they had were substandard choices. Our partnership with the federal government has truly created more options for families who had none. Well-run, fairly resourced and properly overseen charter schools have played and can continue to play a crucial role in reducing inequality and making opportunity accessible for all.
Sen. Warren, what I remember most about your class was not your prodigious intellect, your thoughtful questions or your engaging style. What sticks with me 15 years later was the way that you made every student feel important, valued and heard. We do the same at MESA, as do our fellow charter schools. Our kids look forward to coming to school each day, just as your students looked forward to coming to class. Our values are your values. We urge you to see charter schools for the partners that they are.