State to run school desegregation lottery but tight-lipped on seat count

Two students who spoke during the forum walk through the courtyard of two of the magnet schools at the Hartford Learning Corridor.

The state next month will run a school choice lottery that was created decades ago in an effort to desegregate Hartford’s schools.

But the state Department of Education declined to say whether the lottery will include more seats for students in desegregated magnet and suburban schools or whether the state will continue a present cap on the number of seats it will pay for.

The cap has left seats unfilled in the desegregated schools.

This school year, 7,672 of the 20,237 students who applied to attend a choice school were offered enrollment – a 46 percent acceptance rate for Hartford residents and a 34 percent rate for suburban students.

About 20,000 students attend the schools, which were created to comply with a 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court order in the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill case to desegregate schools in the capital city.

With just over half of the city’s students still attending schools where more than three-quarters of the students are black or Hispanic, negotiations between the state and the plaintiffs in the Sheff case over how many seats will be offered have been at a stalemate for months.

The attorney general’s office has told a Superior Court judge supervising compliance with the Sheff ruling that the state will not be opening any additional magnet schools, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told the Mirror last June that the state is under no obligation to further desegregate Hartford schools.

In announcing that the lottery will run, state officials said the “goal” is to increase participation in diverse settings.

“All students – regardless of zip code and life circumstance – deserve to go to a great school and receive a great education,” Malloy said in a statement. “The goal remains to get more Hartford students into high-quality magnet school seats and ultimately to address some of the unintended inequities that resulted from a well-meaning desegregation program.

“From school choice systems to education funding, we need to shift as a state to focus our efforts on lifting the schools that need the most help so that all students – especially our most disadvantaged students – have a chance to rise to their potential.”

Pressed on whether that meant more seats would be offered in the lottery, set to run in a couple weeks, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education declined to go beyond saying it was a “goal.”

“Our goal is to serve more Hartford students,” the spokeswoman said.

This year 19,155 students applied for the lottery, of whom 6,000 are Hartford residents. The remainder are from the suburbs.