State officials agreed Friday to offer 1,853 more students from Hartford a seat in an integrated setting in the next school year.
The agreement is a result of a 17-year-old Connecticut Supreme Court decision ordering the state to eliminate inequities that exist because the city’s student population is largely black and Hispanic.
State officials agreed that for the 2014-15 school year, they will try to secure seats in suburban schools for 500 more students from Hartford, as well as to provide nearly 700 additional seats in existing magnet schools in the Hartford region. This court-sanctioned agreement also names several new schools run by the Hartford school system that will begin enrolling students from suburban communities in an attempt to integrate those schools. In addition, a new magnet school at Capital Community College in downtown Hartford will open to enroll 60 city and suburban students next year.
“This agreement honors the important objectives established by the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill decision, and reflects Connecticut’s continuing commitment to improving educational opportunities for students,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a statement. “In these negotiations, the state fought hard to open more seats for Hartford’s children in a variety of learning environments.”
In the current school year, 8,374 students attend “integrated” schools — a term used when less than three-quarters of a school’s student population are members of minority groups. The agreement promises that by October 2014, 44 percent of Hartford’s population will attend integrated schools, a slight increase from the 42 percent of students who live in Hartford and now attend non-segregated schools. In the first week the state lottery opened this year, more than 5,000 children were signed up to attend a different school.
“I think this moves us incrementally forward in the right direction,” Martha Stone, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Sheff lawsuit, said of the nearly 2,000 additional seats that will be offered next year to students who live in Hartford.
The state’s approach to offering students a diverse educational setting has been to open new magnet schools and to offer enrollment in suburban-area public schools. That approach continues under this one-year agreement, though the governor hinted that, after nearly two decades and $2.5 billion spent complying with the original Sheff agreement, it may be time to update the state’s strategy.
“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.
Recently there has been pushback from some parents and lawmakers concerned about Sheff’s impact.
“I believe now it’s causing a problem,” Shonta Browdy told the State Board of Education earlier this month. Browdy has two children who attend Hartford public schools. “The lawsuit is killing our city,” she said.
Browdy is concerned about the 58 percent of students in Hartford who receive no benefit as a result of Sheff versus the massive amount of state money going to the so-called Sheff schools, those targeted for a reduction in segregation.
“What about everyone else?” Browdy asked.
Rep. Jason Rojas, an East Hartford Democrat who serves on the legislature’s Education Committee, argued in an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant recently that the state’s approach to integration over the years is not fiscally sustainable. He noted further that East Hartford is also struggling, not just Hartford, which benefits the most from the adopted school choice model. Malloy made clear during an interview earlier this year that he has major concerns with drastically expanding the existing school-choice model to desegregate the schools in Hartford.
Stone said that the plaintiffs are alway eager to offer more students a seat in an integrated setting without it costing a lot. She pointed out that several schools that will begin enrolling suburban students next year — including Goodwin Academy and the school at Capital Community College — will require no new contruction, and so no construction costs.
Under this agreement, the long-term strategy in the Sheff case is put off until the next agreement is reached. The deadline for that agreement is Nov. 15, 2014, one week after the gubernatorial election.
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