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Conn. House Approves Desegregation Bill

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The Connecticut House has passed a desegregation bill designed to improve the racial balance in the state's public schools by requiring 11 clusters of cities, towns, and rural areas to design local remedies.

The bill, approved by legislators late last month, also would give the state education commissioner broad authority to reject or endorse the regional proposals.

The measure is a variation of a plan crafted in April by the legislature's joint education committee. (See Education Week, April 28, 1993.)

The bill approved by the House contains a number of changes, however, aimed at gaining the support of Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

The committee bill would have carved the state into 10 regions responsible for devising integration plans that incorporate magnet and interdistrict programs, school choice, or other options.

But the earlier version of the legislation also exempted 29 rural communities in the northern part of the state, on the grounds that they were too isolated from cities or towns with many minority students.

Under the House-passed bill, however, every region would be required to participate, regardless of its current racial composition.

Localities would have to submit their plans to the commissioner by Sept. 15, 1994, and demonstrate that they would both improve academic performance and enhance student diversity or the awareness of diversity.

The state board of education could withhold funds for school construction or other purposes from towns or school districts that refuse to comply. But the bill does not contain any mechanism for penalizing regions that submit a plan but fail to implement it.

The bill, expected to cost $375,000 in the first year and $475,000 the following year, would be paid for out of the state education department budget.

Governor Backs Compromise

Governor Weicker and Commissioner of Education Vincent L. Ferrandino, both of whom had expressed reservations about excluding any areas of the state, endorsed the House plan last month.
In January, the Governor put forward a considerably more far-reaching desegregation plan that would have carved the state into six regions responsible for countering racial isolation. (See Education Week, Feb. 3, 1993.)

Mr. Weicker, a former Republican elected Governor as an independent, predicted the bill would have bipartisan support when it comes before the Senate this week.

In the House, however, the bill was endorsed by only one Republican. Democrats control both chambers.

Many lawmakers acknowledge that there is a problem with residential segregation, which has concentrated most of the state's minority students in 15 urban districts. But Democrats and Republicans have offered radically different solutions.

Several G.O.P. legislators have proposed alternatives that would broaden the role of school choice or eliminate the penalties for districts that fail to take part.

While the legislature and Governor work on statewide desegregation plans, a court is deliberating on a case challenging racial disparities between schools in inner-city Hartford and its surrounding suburbs. A decision in Sheff v. O'Neill is expected in November.

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