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Education is Freedom! The Central Falls Rally to fund the schools



I am a child living in a hotspot during a global pandemic,” said Juan Diego Estrada, a 6th grade student at Calcutt Middle School in Central Falls. “My teacher recently told us that her, and close to fifty our teachers a, including all art, music, phys ed, library, nurses and other staff are laid off or cut from our schools. She explained to us that these teachers are being cut because our district doesn’t have enough money to pay for them.

I know you don’t know me personally, but I ask that you think of me as your own child for a minute and ask yourself – Would you want these same types of things happening in your child’s school?

Over 125 people gathered on the north side of the Rhode Island State House as part of a rally to demand that state elected leaders properly fund Central Falls Schools on Wednesday. They brought with them three basic demands:

  1. Prepare and vote for a State Budget that funds Central Falls Schools at $46.5m for 2021. The number of students we serve requires it.
  2. Consider a law that allows for adjustment of funding based on enrollment throughout the school year. Our educators should not be educating 3000 children on a budget that is only designed to barely educate 2700.
  3. Commit to meet with a group of stakeholders in Central Falls to discuss a long term strategy to do right by Central Falls Schools, to reinvent, re-imagine, to make an example of what is possible for an education.

“We in Central Falls were not getting the same funding as other students around the state,” said David Upegui, a teacher in Central Falls. “Lack of books, the nonexistence of computers, the limited music program, the decrepit buildings: We knew we were getting less. I can’t believe that 20 years later I’m here speaking about the same issues…

“The State of Rhode Island could have made Central Falls into an innovative hub for education but instead it has opted to under fund the schools and oppress the children by offering less than was needed,” continued Upegui. “We are tired of your empty promises and you patronizing pats on the head. Ultimately Governor, and political proxies, what you must ask yourself is this : Given the creation of conditions by an unjust system, would you send your children to the Central Falls Schools?

“And the answer of course would be no.”

Many people spoke at the rally, and you can hear them all on this video from Will James at UpriseRI, who ran a livefeed of the event here:

“It’s so hurtful to be here so that our students can have the same rights as students in Barrington and Little Compton,” said Jamie Hill, a Central falls teacher. “Some of our speakers talked about having the same opportunities as private schools. We’re not even talking about that. We’re talking about having the same opportunities as Smithfield, or East Providence. We just want our equitable share, our fair share from the State.”

“For far too long the Central Falls School District has been experiencing cycles of inadequate funding,” said Stephanie Gonzalez, who chairs the Central Falls Board of Trustees. “We are here today because our unique relationship with the state makes every legislator in this building a stakeholder in and responsible for what happens to our students. We are holding every single person involved in preparing and passing the budget accountable.

“We know and understand that COVID has impacted the budget by many millions of dollars, but I am asking the Governor and all 115 legislators, especially Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio, to do right by Central Falls children right now,” continued Gonzalez.

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“At the core, the decision to fund or not fund our schools adequately is oppressive. It is racist and disproportionally undervalues Black and Brown life. It is not the kind of state violence that kills Black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but it is violence nonetheless.

“It is the kind of violence that kills and squanders dreams and possibility for the children of Central Falls.”

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.

Freelance Journalist and Visual Artist, and Video Producer for Uprise RI. If you would like to support my work directly my username on CashApp, Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal is "willconns".