The State Board of Education unanimously voted Wednesday that school districts will no longer be required to pay tuition to send their students to preschools at nearby magnet schools.
Instead, for the school year that just started, the state will pay.
The numerous districts involved collectively pay $4 million a year to send 1,250 children to preschools outside their district.
“Basically, we will find the money,” said board Chairman Allan B. Taylor.
But the move is a one-time fix. The legislature will have to decide if the state should pay to send suburban children not from low-income families to preschool, or if their parents should be charged some tuition.
This debate comes as Hartford faces a court-ordered October deadline to reduce the inequities caused by the racial isolation of its largely black and Hispanic school population. One approach the state has taken to entice white parents to send their children to integrated schools has been to offer them free preschool.
“A significant number of those suburban families would not have enrolled their young children in schools outside their towns without the tuition-free preschool incentive,” Barbara Zuras, a member of the Sheff Movement Coalition, told state board members. The coalition is led by Elizabeth Horton Sheff, the mother of the student that the successful Sheff vs. O’Neill desegregation lawsuit against the state was named after. Charging tuition “will discourage families from taking that first magnet school step. It will undermine the integration effort,” Zuras said.
The State Department of Education’s School Choice Office was unable to verify how many preschool students from suburban districts who attend these magnet schools remain for kindergarten.
For the past few years, the education department has required districts statewide to pay tuition for their students to attend magnets. But last month a state-appointed hearing officer agreed with a lawsuit filed by a coalition of suburban districts, and recommended that the state board reverse its previous policy and stop requiring districts to pick up the bill.
Bruce Douglas, executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council, which operates magnet schools in the Hartford area, said he agrees with the state board’s decision.
“I think they made the right decision… The department did not have the authority to require districts to pay for this,” he said.
His district, which enrolls more suburban students in its preschool programs than any other district in the state, stood to lose $3 million a year if the state didn’t pick up the cost.
“Now it’s up to legislators what happens next,” he said.