By the numbers: Integrating schools in CT

Over the last 10 years, the state has spent about $2.5 billion to offer Hartford students enrollment in an integrated school. Most of the state's spending has gone toward opening new magnet schools in the region to encourage Hartford minority students and white students from the suburbs to enroll.

These efforts follow the Connecticut Supreme Court's ordering the state 17 years ago -- in its ruling in the Sheff v. O'Neill lawsuit -- to eliminate the inequities that exist because of Hartford's largely minority-student population.

The interactive charts below show the results of the state's two-pronged strategy to provide an education in an integrated setting for students who live in Hartford: through the opening of new magnet schools; and through Open Choice, a program that encourages neighboring districts to open their schools to students who live in Hartford.

Despite these efforts and all the changes, more than half of all Hartford's 21,000 students continue to attend segregated schools, a term used when more than three-quarters of a school's student population are members of minority groups. And, as John Logan, a sociology professor at Brown University, reported to state legislators this month, a comparison of Connecticut's metro areas to those of most other metro areas in the country show that black and Hispanic students are more segregated in the Brigeport-Stamford-Norwalk area, the New Haven-Milford area and in Hartford than most other cities.

Approach #1 -- Magnet Schools -- Dozens of new or renovated schools have been opened as magnet schools throughout Connecticut. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last week was in East Hartford to celebrate the opening of the Connecticut River Academy, the state's newest magnet school that cost $57 million to build.

"The state fought hard to open more seats for Hartford’s children in a variety of learning environments," Malloy said recently when announcing that hundreds more Hartford students will be offered enrollment in magnet schools next school year.

Here's a look at the demographics of those magnet schools that enroll students from around the Hartford region.

It's not just the capital area that has taken advantage of state funding to build or renovate existing buildings into new regional magnet schools. Here's a look at the demographics in interdistrict magnet schools in the Bridgeport and New Haven regions. Enrollment in magnet schools in these areas has continually increased.

 

magnet

Approach #2 -- Open Choice

The state's strategy to get more Hartford-resident students in integrated schools has relied heavily on suburban districts' voluntarily offering seats to Hartford students. Despite recent increased financial incentives to the suburban districts, the strategy has yet to take off. State reimbursements range from the $745 provided to West Hartford for each Hartford-resident student who is enrolled to $5,575 per Hartford student in Portland.

Between the 2008-09 and 2012-13 school years, the number of seats suburban districts have offered Hartford-resident students has increased by 531, well short of the number the state has promised the court it would have each year for students.

Here's a look at how relying on districts to voluntarily offer seats with some financial reimbursements has played out over the past five school years in Greater Hartford.

Students from the New Haven and Bridgeport areas have also been able to take advantage of Open Choice by enrolling in nearby suburban districts. Last school year, various Fairfield County districts offered enrollment to 184 students living in other districts. In the New Haven area, nearby public schools offered 503 students enrollment to students living in other districts, reports the State Department of Education.

What's next?

While the state has already promised to offer nearly 2,000 additional seats in integrated settings through Open Choice and magnet schools for the next school year, the state has until Nov. 15, 2014, to reach a new agreement with the plaintiffs in the case for the years after that.

And while negotiations continue, some people are calling for a fresh look at the state's strategy of relying on new schools or the suburbs to provide a quality education to Hartford's children.

"The desegregation of Hartford schools has been taking place for the last 20 years and there are changes to be celebrated and others that merit further inquiry," Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, wrote his constituents this month in an email. "It’s not just an urban or core city issue anymore. I am currently meeting with individuals who have reached out to me with ideas and am also conducting some research to see what other policy options exist to more effectively and efficiently address this challenge we face as a region."

Malloy also has hinted that the state's strategy needs updating.

"Over the next year, it will be important to take a hard look at what’s changed since this case was decided nearly 20 years ago — to listen to parents, students and the community; to acknowledge the complex demographic changes in the region; and to focus, first and foremost, on making a quality education available to every child," he said last month.

The superintendent of Hartford Public Schools has suggested that more than race or ethnicity be taken into account when determining if a school is integrated, such as family income.

Here's an interactive chart outlining the difference between schools' socioeconomic makeup versus their ethnic and racial makeup. For example, while 76 percent of students at Classical Magnet Middle School located in Hartford are minority students, only 47 percent come from families that earn so little they qualify for free- or reduced-priced school meals. Several schools throughout the region are significantly more racially isolated than they are segregated by the income of the families attending the schools.

Coming tomorrow: Numbers aside, Hartford parents also have strong views for and against state efforts to provide an integrated education. "Our schools are more segregated than ever," one parent told the State Board of Education recently.

Editor's note: The graphics in this article were produced in a collaboration between Trinity College students participating in The Cities, Suburbs & Schools Project and CT Mirror Data Editor Alvin Chang.

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