Equity & Diversity

Opposing Sides Agree Conn. Integration Efforts Need More Money

By Jeff Archer — January 10, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Still miles apart in their assessment of their state’s response to a 1996 court order to better integrate its schools, Connecticut education officials and the plaintiffs in the state’s long-running desegregation case are both arguing that the remedy needs a greater investment of public dollars.

In presenting the state school board with a report on Connecticut’s desegregation efforts, Commissioner of Education Theodore J. Sergi pressed last week for a substantial increase in funding for the programs at the core of the state’s strategy to reduce racial and ethnic isolation in its schools. While characterizing the progress made as “reasonable first steps,” Mr. Sergi stressed that “much more must be done.”

The pitch coincided with the beginning of the legislature’s 2001 session and came less than a week after the plaintiffs in the desegregation case, known as Sheff v. O’Neill, announced that they were reviving their lawsuit. The state, they contend, has not yet adequately responded to the Connecticut Supreme Court’s mandate.

Instead of offering a wholesale criticism of the state’s response, however, the plaintiffs in their latest complaint argue that state officials have not backed it up with enough money. Like Commissioner Sergi, they said state lawmakers should allocate more funding to programs that allow students to transfer between school districts and to new magnet schools that draw from across Connecticut.

“We’re not opposed to voluntary measures,” said Dennis Parker, an assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “We’re saying do it, but do it right, and do it on a scale and on a level that makes a difference.”

Effectiveness Questioned

Debate over how Connecticut should better integrate its schools has raged since 1989, when the Sheff case was first filed against the state on behalf of a group of Hartford-area students. At the time, more than 90 percent of students in the capital city’s school system were black or Latino.

Connecticut’s highest court ruled in their favor in 1996, and ordered the legislature to make the implementation of a remedy a top priority. Since then, the state has focused on crafting new incentives and opportunities for schools and students to take part in programs that allow children to attend schools outside their communities.

But the Sheff plaintiffs have consistently argued that the state’s efforts have failed to effectively change the racial or ethnic makeup of the schools in Hartford or its neighboring districts. When they first sought to revive the case in 1998, Superior Court Judge Julia L. Aurigemma issued an opinion saying the remedy hadn’t been given enough time.

Two years later, the plaintiffs now say it is clear that state response isn’t meeting the supreme court’s mandate, and they have asked the Superior Court to order state officials to make a substantially greater investment in their strategy.

In his progress report last week, however, Mr. Sergi pointed out that the number of students served by Connecticut’s interdistrict magnet schools had grown from 3,500 to 6,400 since 1997. During the same period, the number of children participating in the state’s interdistrict-transfer program, called Open Choice, has risen from about 470 to 1,480.

“It’s hard to argue that what we’ve done is sufficient, but there certainly have been visible, measurable steps taken,” Mr. Sergi said in an interview.

To achieve more progress, Mr. Sergi has proposed budget increases for the next two fiscal years for many elements of the state’s integration efforts. Under his proposals, annual funding for magnet schools would jump from $36.7 million this year to $52.6 million in 2003, and annual funding for Open Choice would grow to $12 million, from $8.2 million, during the same time.

Also last week, the state school board called on Connecticut lawmakers to amend the two programs to ensure that they do not exacerbate the problem of racial and ethnic isolation. Under the board’s proposal a new magnet school would not be approved unless at least 25 percent of it’s students would be from racial groups that were underrepresented in the local district, and groups of students who transferred between districts would have to reflect the overall racial composition of the systems they left.

Although he hadn’t seen all of Commissioner Sergi’s recommendations, Mr. Parker of the Legal Defense Fund said last week that a greater influx of spending should have come sooner, and he pointed to the fact that many of the state’s new magnet schools have waiting lists. He added that the plaintiffs planned to press ahead despite the budget proposals.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2001 edition of Education Week as Opposing Sides Agree Conn. Integration Efforts Need More Money

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Educational Equity Descends Into Educational Nihilism
Schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty