Hartford-Area Parents Get Results of School Choice Lotteries: Joy and Frustration

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Hartford magnetHometowns of Students that Attend 1 Interdistrict Magnet School


 

Last week, parents in the Hartford area learned of the results of local and regional school choice lotteries. As our readers may already know, the Regional School Choice Office (RSCO) conducts a few lotteries each spring to determine school assignment in inter-district magnet school and the Open Choice. Hartford Public Schools also conducts a lottery/school assignment process for non-magnet schools within the city limits.

The RSCO school lottery is directly related to implementation of the Sheff v. O’Neill case settlement to desegregate Hartford’s schools through magnet schools and Open Choice. The local lottery for non-magnet themed schools was part of the local Hartford response to competition from heavily state-subsidized inter-district magnet schools operated by the Hartford Public Schools, Goodwin College, and the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).

Below are comments from parents, mostly Black and Latin@ mothers, after learning the results of the RSCO and local school lotteries. There is both joy and frustration at the process.

These comments were obtained through multiple sources including private messages to this author, Facebook, and Twitter. They are scattered comments gathered through social networks and shared with the permission of the parents. Names of children, parents, and schools, as well as ages and locations, have been removed.

As the CT Mirror reported last year, the acceptance rate to magnet schools varied from 7% at the CREC Aerospace Academy to 100% at a number of schools such as HPS Classical Magnet. Roughly 30% of applicants received an acceptance in the first lottery last year. It’s important to remember that there is typically a second lottery and students can come off the wait list as late as September. So this first lottery isn’t the end of the process. (I’ll try to get new numbers for this year’s lottery.)

While there are concerns from parents about not getting into the magnet schools they desired, the locations, the process, and wait lists, I don’t see an overwhelming critique of magnet schools directly. Instead, I see a frustration with why their children can’t attend schools like the magnet schools, which are relatively better-resourced and racially and economically diverse schools. This frustration is, in part, the result of troubled State implementation of this desegregation program. This is a subject that I’ll be exploring in more depth and detail this summer.

Want to share your joy or frustration – or anything in between – about the Hartford-area school choice process? Send me a private message (robert.cotto@trincoll.edu) or comment below.

 

Parent Responses – Accepted

Parent 1: “I just got great news that (named removed) got accepted to the (name removed) Magnet School for This fall!!! So excited 😬😬”

Parent 2: “(Name removed) got into (school name removed) for (number removed) grade. It was her first choice.”

 

Parent Responses – Wait Listed

Parent 3: “(Name Removed) got wait listed!”

Parent 4: “I’ve been trying to get my daughter in for 5-6 years she’s been wait listed every year just found out today she’s been wait listed yet again I just don’t understand the process and will she ever have a chance? They say it’s random but I feel like kids from certain areas or with siblings already in get preference.”

Parent 5:

Comment 1: “So disappointed my baby didn’t get into a magnet again this year… Waiting list again!! I guess private school it is…

Comment 2: After seeing these numbers in even more discouraged, not liking this whole lot try business I’ve never been lucky to get anything for free so I guess I’ll start saving to either move out of Hartford and back to West Hartford or pay for private school! 😖😖😖”

Parent 6: “Hello I am a mother of a student in the hartford school system. He is in the (number removed) grade and he attends school at (school name removed) elementary. I have been trying to get him into a different school for the past three years. I have had no success in getting him into a different school. He is a very smart artistic kid who needs to go to a school that he can expand on his artistic skills and I have been completely unsuccessful in getting him into a school of that type. It is extremely stressful that he can’t get into anything like that. He is having behavioral problems because of this. It’s not fair that I am a resident of hartford and my son can’t get into a school of his choice in the city that he lives in. Also we live on the (cardinal direction removed) end of hartford and he goes to school on the (cardinal direction removed) end of Hartford that is a problem I would rather him go on the (cardinal direction removed) end and I can’t get that either. I’m tried (sic) of this lottery its (sic) a joke and they are treating the parents and children of the city of Hartford unfairly. I have run out of options as far as my son and another school that   He can attend because once again he has not gotten into a school of his choice.”

Parent 7: “School lottery results are in. No choice for Hartford residents. One child still not accepted into her neighborhood school, even though she was #1, one year, & #14 another year. To top off the suspicion of a corrupt so called school lottery, she has neighborhood & sibling preference. Another child applied for every possible choice, Hartford Public Schools, Crec, Suburban school…. Guess what! This child was not accepted in any school, not even his neighborhood school. I understand that most Hartford residents are poor & have little or no education. I understand that this is why we get treated unjustly & people get away with it. We do not have the money or the power to fight this injustice. Right now I write because I am pst about this. There is unlawful activity & corruption going on with this so called school lottery, RSCO”

 

 

 

 

Achievement First – Hartford Charter Renewal: The Accountability is Still Always Flexible

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The Hartford Courant’s Kathy Megan reported that yesterday the State Board of Education (all gubernatorial appointees) granted a three-year approval to the Achievement First – Hartford charter school (rather than 5 years) and a one year probation for ongoing problems of violating teacher certification laws, poor culture and climate, and excessive suspensions of children.

As I’ve written before here, Connecticut’s law, despite some tweaking last year, is endlessly flexible when it comes to charter school accountability. Being the State’s preferred education reform policy, privately-managed charter schools will never be shut down regardless of the laws they happen to violate or the harm they cause students. Flexible accountability is an advantage that public schools do not enjoy, however.

You can read the State Board’s resolution here and below is a segment of the text from the resolution.

Renewal of State Charter – Achievement First Hartford Academy (pg.4)
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Source: CT State Department of Education, 2016.

Hartford Public School Budget Hearing and Resources 2016-17

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Have a question, comment, or concern about the Hartford Public Schools and City of Hartford (CT) education budget?

Update: On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, there will be a meeting where the City Council and the Hartford Board of Education speak on the proposed budget. (Here are the other meetings for City Council.) The final budget vote will happen on Tuesday, May 17 at 5:30 p.m. at Naylor Elementary School on 639 Franklin Avenue. 

On May 3, 2016, there was a budget hearing for public comment on the Hartford Public Schools recommended budget for the 2016-17 school year. The hearing started at 5:30 p.m. at the M.D. Fox Elementary School at 470 Maple Avenue in the city’s Barry Square/South End neighborhood.

Update: It was a brutal board of education public hearing on the budget. Speakers were very frustrated for a variety of reasons: lack of resources & funds, layoffs, school closures, & lack of responsiveness. The Hartford Courant account is here and the video of the public hearing on May 3, 2016 is here.

You can read the recommend budget here and check out the resource links below. You can also send me or post a question about the budget on this site.

The news is not good. The HPS Superintendent has proposed severe cuts to the school budget: a total cut of 235.8 full-time positions. (A list of cuts by people’s positions with the schools is below.)Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 1.46.58 PM

So what’s my take?  “Arbitrary austerity” makes planning budgets on the ground level very difficult, but a few other things are happening at the same time:

  • Costs continue to go up over time, but revenue is flat.
  • The City of Hartford continues to flat fund the school system and pressure the school board to assume a greater portion of costs.

City of Hartford Proposed Education Budget FY2017

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  • Expansion of academies, charters, and magnets across the region has everybody fighting for a flat pool of students, leaving some schools “under-enrolled”. (See this post for more information on this issue.)
  • A number of private foundation grants will be reduced next year. The promises made with these grants do not go away, however. (e.g. Nellie Mae)
  • Support from the State (Governor and Legislature) is declining or flattening in a number of areas such as special funds/grants. (e.g. Education funding for municipalities, magnet funds, Alliance grants.)

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Source: CT Mirror, Budget Tracker, 2016.

 

Resource Links:

A Conversation on SBB School Funding in Hartford, by Robert Cotto

Budget Tracker, What’s on the Table So Far, CT Mirror.

Democrats’ Education Cuts Fall Heavily on CT’s Gold Coast, by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT Mirror.

Impact of the Governor’s, Republican, Democratic, Proposed FY17 Budget on Children and Families, by CT Voices for Children.

Hartford Public Schools, Superintendent’s Recommended Budget 2016-17.

How the Proposed Budget Cuts Affect Your Town, by Matthew Kauffman, The Hartford Courant.

Mayor’s Recommended Budget FY17, City of Hartford

Proposed Hartford Schools Budget Would Eliminate 235 Full-Time Positions, by Vanessa de la Torre

Betraying educational cost sharing in Connecticut?

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For Dianne

As we face what CT Voices for Children recently described as “arbitrary austerity”, there are new battles for State education funding that would have seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. The CT Mirror recently reported that the Connecticut Governor’s revised budget would cut all Educational Cost Share (ECS) funding to 28 wealthy towns and would cut a portion of funding from 111 other towns in Connecticut. I have a number of questions and concerns about cutting all or some of the ECS for these towns, even if they are middle income or very wealthy towns.

In order to make ECS work politically, it’s important to make sure every town and city gets something along a progressive scale – even if it’s a minor amount. After the Horton v. Meskill lawsuit, legislators in the 70s and 1980s were forced to acknowledge that the State was ultimately responsible for providing public education and that there was an over-reliance on local property taxes to pay for public education as guaranteed by the State.

The grant program they created eventually became the Educational Cost Sharing and today it provides funding to every town and city on a progressive basis, that is to say that each town receives a grant that is based on their ability to pay for their schools. The idea is that the State helps pay for public education in addition to local funds generated from property taxes in order “share the costs” of providing public education.

For some towns and cities, the ECS funding from the State is the largest single source of school funding, and for others the grant is supplementary to local revenue. Ideally, every town and city gets some state funding along a progressive scale, which is added to local funding generated from regressive property taxes. However, as the CCJEF case and attorneys like Wendy Lecker argue, the problem with the ECS grant is that it is largely underfunded to provide an adequate education to all students in Connecticut and the method of determining the amount of funding is not progressive or rational enough to be equitable.

So here are some of my questions and concerns.

By cutting and reducing grants for these wealthy and middle income towns and flat funding the 30 lowest income, Black and Latino districts, does this set up the Educational Cost Sharing as only a supposed “low-income, Black & Brown program”?

Does the ECS grant program then become more politically vulnerable in the future without all towns and cities getting aid, thus undermining the broad support it enjoys from all towns and cities in CT?

As my wife, Dr. Cotto, pointed out, there are white, Republican legislators from wealthy towns fighting for ECS funds alongside white, Black, and Latino legislators from the cities. It’s not everyday that there is near universal support in the legislature on a particular program or grant, particularly for public education.

Also, if the idea of the ECS is to base funding on a progressive, rational basis, then what rationale is there for an arbitrary elimination or cut of this funding for some towns and cities?

As my former colleague, Orlando Rodriguez, argued several years ago, there are problems with the exact components of the ECS formula along with its funding and implementation. Specific issues include the fact that some towns and cities are underfunded and overfunded based on past formulas set by the legislators. In short, the Legislature has made somewhat progressive formulas for allocating the ECS grant, but never funded it fully, nor cut anybody that should have received less (e.g. hold harmless). Arbitrary cuts don’t fix any of these problems.

Finally, cutting all or part of ECS funding for these very wealthy towns can be interpreted as a backdoor tax increase to those towns. Here’s why: If these towns want to maintain their current overall spending on education, they might have to raise local property taxes when these State cuts happen. I understand that there may not be a lot of sympathy for wealthy towns having to raise already low property tax rates, albeit in a roundabout way of cutting State education or municipal aid. I get it.

Thinking ahead, take as an example State Representative Gail Lavielle (R) from Wilton, who is a member of both the Appropriations and Education Committees. Will arbitrarily eliminating all State ECS funds to a wealthy town like Wilton make Representative Lavielle more or less likely to support State public education spending in the future, particularly the ECS grant?

This budget proposal to cut out or reduce wealthy and middle income towns from ECS funding on an arbitrary basis departs from the concept of progressive, rational cost sharing for public education. Will legislators and residents of Fairfield, Greenwich, Wilton, and similar towns have even less a reason to care and fight for public education in other parts of the state, having nothing to fight for in terms of ECS funding at the State level? My worry is that the next time, when they come for funds in the rest of our school districts, the ones that enroll low and middle-income White, Black, and Latino schools, we will be even more on our own to fight for those ECS dollars to fund public education and our schools.

A Conversation on “SBB” School Funding in Hartford

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The Hartford Public Schools uses a very unusual funding system called “student-based budgeting” (SBB). In other districts across the country, they use the term “weighted student funding” (WSF) rather than SBB.

Many Black and Latino majority school districts are moving towards this funding scheme and with scant evidence that “SBB/WSF” improves overall resources, equity, or educational outcomes. Based on my experience here in Hartford, CT, I have my doubts on this “voucher-like” funding system.

The New Haven Public Schools want to move to a similar school funding system as Hartford and other cities across the country. In this video interview, I sit down with Chris Willems and Jill Kelly to discuss my experience and concerns with student-based budgeting in Hartford so they can learn how it might work (or not) in New Haven. I also propose some criteria for a fairer funding system. Below there are links to SBB and WSF in Hartford, New Haven, and elsewhere.

Here are a few quotes from the interview:

  • Under this model, “many of the principals find that they don’t have enough money for all of the things that they used to be able to provide.”
  • “More than anything else, weighting student funding and the school-based budgeting provide kind of the illusion of equity.”
  • “We have to ask the question: why is it that the Black and Latino, and relatively poorer school districts, are being asked to do these really unproven and somewhat exotic reforms in terms of school funding, rather than saying that we should be getting the funding from the state and the local, and the federal government as well, to provide the sorts of educational opportunities that are available in the suburbs?”

Resources on “SBB/WSF” Funding

“Student-based Budgeting” in Hartford:

Guide to Student-Based Budgeting

“Weighted Student Funding” in New Haven:

Ed Board Seeks Change to School Funding, Aliyya Swabby.

SBB and WSF in Other Cities:

Jill Kelly: Arguments Against WSF

Other articles on SBB: