Hartford school chief says budget woes will impact desegregation efforts

The Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, a Hartford magnet school.

CTMirror.org File Photo

The Hartford Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, a Hartford magnet school.

Washington – Hartford School Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez told a national forum here Friday that city and state budget crises are affecting Hartford’s public schools at a critical juncture in their fight against economic and racial segregation.

“State and city leaders face tough decisions in balancing employee layoffs and budget cuts, while trying to minimize changes that would negatively impact essential public services,” she said.

Schiavino-Narvaez spoke at an all-day conference put on by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a non-partisan, independent federal panel created in 1957 to report and make recommendations on civil right issues facing the nation.

On Friday, the commission was focused on ”Public Education Funding Inequality in an Era of Increasing Concentration of Poverty and Resegregation.”

This week – 62 years after the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision made legal school segregation unconstitutional – the Government Accountability Office issued a report that said the nation’s schools are increasingly segregated by race and class.

GAO investigators found that from the 2000-2001 school year to 2013-2014, both the percentage of K-12 public schools with high poverty rates and the percentage serving mostly black and Hispanic students more than doubled, from 7,009 to 15,089 schools.

A review of minority student enrollment in districts across Connecticut by The Connecticut Mirror in 2014 found mixed developments since 1969, when Connecticut changed its laws to comply with the Brown decision.

Then, only a handful of suburban Connecticut towns had a student population with more than 5 percent minorities. By 2012 dozens of school districts had integrated schools as more minorities moved into the state.

Minority isolation in large cities, however, had intensified. In Bridgeport, for example, the percentage of minority students in public schools had risen progressively from 51 percent in 1968, to 84 percent in 1988, to 91 percent in 2013.

In Hartford schools, about half of students now identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, 31.3 percent as black or African American, 12.2 percent as white, 3.1 percent as Asian, 0.3 percent as American Indian, 0.2 percent as Pacific Islander, and 3.2 percent as having two or more ethnic backgrounds.

Nearly half of Hartford’s 21,500 students now go to school in a “reduced isolated setting,” where no more than 75 percent of the students are minorities. But thousands of Hartford students still attend schools with high concentrations of minorities.

The desegregation was accomplished largely through the establishment of magnet schools that attracted suburban children to inner city schools and Hartford minority students to schools in the suburbs. The Hartford school system includes 28 neighborhood schools, 20 magnet schools and four charter schools.

Magnet schools were built as the state’s main response to a 20-year-old Supreme Court decision ordering the state to eliminate educational inequities caused by segregation in the Hartford region.

That desegregation effort has since been overseen by a Hartford Superior Court judge, through a series of one-year legal agreements between the state and the plaintiffs who brought the suit. The state attorney general’s office has said the state will not be building any additional magnet schools, however, and has asked the judge to end the court’s involvement.

But Phil Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, and part of the team that sued Connecticut in the Hartford desegregation case, said Friday that more magnet schools are essential in the Hartford area.

“It brought high-quality education to Hartford children,” he said. “We need to keep that growing and expanding. We’re only halfway there.”

The Obama administration is trying to equalize the resources spent by school districts with new regulations on distributing Title I funding, the money the federal government gives school districts based on the number of poor students they serve.

Ary Amerikaner, deputy assistant secretary at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the Department of Education, told conference participants the new education bill would require each school district to report per-student expenditures of federal, state and local funds on local “report cards.”

Amerikaner also said the new education bill will require each state to describe how low‐income children and minority children in Title I schools “are not taught at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out‐of‐field, or inexperienced teachers.”

Teachers unions are concerned this requirement will result in the transferring of higher-paid, more experienced teachers from one school to another.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas contributed to this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the latest one-year agreement in the Hartford desegregation case expired. It does not expire until June.

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