HPS “Restructuring and Reimagining Our School District” Presentation & Feedback

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At the Hartford Board of Education’s regular meeting on November 21, 2017, Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodríguez offered her principles and initial plans for reshaping the Hartford Public Schools. The project is entiled, “Restructuring and Reimagined Our School District.”

You can watch the presentation here after the public comment portion of the meeting. And you can submit feedback here or at this address: https://www.hartfordschools.org/feedback/

Download (PDF, 1.47MB)

A second portion of the Superintendent’s plans with more detail will be presented in December 2017. Another presentation and public hearing will happen before the school board votes on final details and recommendations.

There are multiples thing happening here. The district wants to improve academic outcomes while grappling with State resistance to the Sheff and CCJEF cases. Also, there are consequences of planned and unplanned intra- and inter-district school choice. The troubles range from lack of district capacity (e.g. organizational excellence), financial sustainability, and uneven enrollment size across schools (e.g. small schools, concentrated student need), and need for more attention to the core work of teaching and learning, to name a few.

The obvious concern is: what changes? Within that concern are more questions: How might schools look in terms of grades offered (e.g. K-5 or K-8, 6-8)? What sort of curricula, resources, and opportunities should each school have (e.g. core subjects, art, music, guidance, phys. ed, etc.) Which schools might be consolidated together? Which might be closed? Which new schools or programs might open or replaced current ones? What are the benefits and drawbacks? Who is ultimately served by any changes?

To a large extent, this process is revision of and response to the Equity 2020 committee plans from a year ago. That situation, which I wrote about here, was disastrous in terms of impact on the community. That plan simply picked the most vulnerable schools and listed them for closure and/or consolidation.

Unlike the Equity 2020 committee work, this project is led by the Superintendent and seeks public input in person, phone, or online. Here’s the link again: https://www.hartfordschools.org/feedback/.


What are charter school entrepreneurs selling in Connecticut this year?

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Sample Five-Year Budget for Proposed Charter School in CT


A few weeks ago, Jacquline Rabe Thomas reported that five private operators had submitted applications to CT State Board of Education (SBOE) and CT Department of Education (CSDE) to create and operate new charter schools in Connecticut. This year, the applications for new charters would directly impact two suburban/rural towns, Danbury and Winchester, and two cities, Hartford and Norwalk. These applications can be viewed as a sales pitch by private education entrepreneurs attempting to get State government to shift public dollars to their charter school ventures. 

Unlike previous years, there are some changes to how new charter schools get approved. Rabe Thomas noted that a recent change in the law required that the SBOE and CSDE call for applications for new charter schools on a yearly basis. However, there is no requirement to actually create any new charter schools. Also, the State Board of Education only recommends the creation of new charter schools through a “certificate”. Then the State Legislature has the final say on creation and funding of new schools. At least one reason for these changes came as a result of charter school entrepreneurs advertising for new charter schools that had not even been funded by the legislature, which placed legislators against parents that were promised a new school that did not yet exist.

In any event, it will be interesting to see what the SBOE and CSDE do given what we are learning about charter school issues and problems. For example, the NAACP has called for a national moratorium on charter schools because of excessive disciplinary practices, mixed records of achievement, siphoning resources away from traditional public schools into private ventures, and continuing segregation by race and ability. You can learn more about that charter school moratorium here.

Reviewing these applications could be a daunting task given the amount of information presented in the five new charter school applications, which are several hundred pages in length. In addition to reviewing these long applications, there is also a context of financial strain. There is no State budget (as of 10/3/2017) and there is lack of consensus about the method of funding for public education and charter schools. Below you can take a look at the new charter school applications and find out what these entrepreneurs are trying to sell to the public this year.

Source: Connecticut State Department of Education.


Community First Charter School – Hartford


Danbury Collegiate Charter School 


Danbury Prospect Charter School


Norwalk Charter School for Excellence


Winchester Academy Charter School


Winchester Academy Charter School (appendices)

More about the Fed’s municipal cost and spending report for CT towns and cities

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Yesterday, I highlighted the failing narratives that try to explain what’s happening in Connecticut’s cities. In proposing another narrative, I offered the Boston Federal Reserve report that analyzed the financial issues of the state’s towns and cities. Here’s a bit more information about that report below and you can read it yourself here.

First, the report written by the Boston Federal Reserve (bank) and NE Public Policy Center intended to measure, “the non-school fiscal health of Connecticut municipalities using a “municipal gap.” Municipal gap is the difference between the uncontrollable costs associated with providing public services and the economic resources available to a municipality to pay for those services.” In other words, the report analyzed the difference between what services Connecticut’s towns and cities must pay to have a functional local government and compared that to their ability to pay for these resources.

The report made several key findings, but the most important was this one: Our results show large nonschool fiscal disparities across cities and towns in Connecticut. These disparities are driven primarily by differences in revenue-raising capacity.” In other words, there were large differences in the ability of some towns and cities to pay for the needs in those communities. In particular, the high needs of some towns and cities to maintain fire, police, roads, and other services exceeds their ability to raise funds to pay for those services.


In short, towns and cities in Connecticut are limited to raising funds through local property taxes and fees, which are both regressive. Add in high costs of places with more roads, more police, people living in poverty or unemployed, more firefighters, etc. and there is a “gap” between necessary costs and ability to pay.

In Connecticut, there are some ways that the State helps mitigate this gap. The major one for municipal government is the PILOT grant to towns and cities. but the report found that this grant is too small currently to make a huge difference. For schools, the State offers the ECS grant. But this report excluded school spending from the analysis. And in other States, cities and towns can raise revenue through a local sales tax or other means besides property taxes and fees.

A critical point in the report was that the authors found this problem existed independent of individual decisions by local policymakers. It reads, “Importantly, our measures of costs and capacity, and therefore gap, do not represent actual spending or revenues, but instead are based on factors that are outside the direct control of local officials.” In addition, the report stated, “The disparities that stem from these underlying factors, which fall largely outside the control of local officials, are widely regarded as inequitable.” In other words, the authors found that measures of cost and capacity were not easily influenced by local politicians, and they instead favored a structural or systematic explanation.

Last year, Scott Gaul at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and Michelle Riordan-Nold from the CT Data Collaborative wrote a summary of this report. In their essay, “Why is Hartford Broke?”, they had had roughly the same reading of the report as I did. You can read their summary here.

Again, why does this matter?

Depending on your narrative about Hartford, and other cities in Connecticut, you get different ideas about a solution. If you believe that local politicians made poor decisions, then there should be more heavy-handed oversight by the State, such as an State-appointed, unelected fiscal control board, or junta de control fiscal for cities like Hartford, CT. Nevermind that by this logic, the financially struggling State Legislature and all other towns and cities in the state that are financially struggling should also get an unelected fiscal control board.

But if you look at the numbers and policies and agree with the Federal Reserve narrative of mismatch between inability to pay and high costs, then you might think that Connecticut’s towns and cities need new ways of generating revenue to fund the basic services needed to run a city or town. This narrative doesn’t match well with the dominant, racialized stories about the cities’ demise or local political ineptitude or indiscretion. And that’s probably why this story of financial mismatch doesn’t get much attention.


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The Failing Narratives about Connecticut Cities that Undermine Democracy and Why They Are Wrong

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At a recent talk, my colleague Professor Davarian Baldwin, explained that the Detroit bankruptcy was interpreted by the mainstream media and whites as (paraphrasing), “blacks got control of the city and ruined it” rather than the structural strangulation of insufficient resources and revenue to run the city. The same racialized narratives operate in Hartford and Connecticut as the Hartford’s mayor uses the specter of bankruptcy as a bargaining chip and the primarily white Legislature again considers the anti-democratic idea of an unelected oversight Board to review and govern Black and Latinx Hartford’s finances.

One dominant and incorrect story seems to be, “(corrupt) Black then Latino politicians ruined Hartford after the (supposed) White gilded age of the past.” Read the comments page on any online article about Hartford or other CT city and you will see evidence of this thinking. Other narratives including the “Hartford/cities spends too much” tale. And the governor’s story, a combination of the first two stories, is that Hartford needs to “help itself”.

I would argue that another more compelling story, one that can be defended with evidence, is that Hartford as a public entity generates great private wealth, yet the city and its residents are often cut off from that wealth. State policy plays a major role in maintaining this situation in which private wealth abounds while city and even some suburban governments are starved of revenue.

Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll listen to the managers of global capitalism like the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. Here’s what the Boston Federal Reserve Bank/NE Public Policy Center had to say about Connecticut’s cities and towns: “Our results show large nonschool fiscal disparities across cities and towns in Connecticut. These disparities are driven primarily by differences in revenue-raising capacity.” In other words, the cities can’t capture the revenue needed to administer the cities that the suburbs and everybody else require to generate wealth.

These competing narratives matter because they lead to different responses by people in power. If you believe the failing story about Black and Latinx inability to govern the cities like Hartford, and that they need to “help itself”; then you might propose an anti-democratic and unelected oversight Board or push for a court-managed bankruptcy, which would sell off city assets like parks, trusts, and property. If you believe that Hartford creates great wealth for the region but is starved of revenue to operate the city, then you might raise revenue and direct it to the city.

Over the next few days, we’ll see which narrative and response prevails.

Following the State’s Effort to Undermine School Desegregation in CT

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Over the last few weeks, the State of Connecticut, represented by the Attorney General’s Office, took another step in its effort to undermine racial desegregation of schools in Connecticut. The key part of this recent step has been to attack the specific reduced-isolation goals in the Sheff v. O’Neill case’s stipulated agreement and order.

Under the Sheff agreement, school desegregation is accomplished through voluntary school choice programs (e.g. Open Choice, interdistrict magnet schools) and a controlled lottery to produce schools that have not more than 75% Black and Latino students. The idea is to carefully create racially diverse schools and to do this without explicitly taking individual students’ race into account in school assignment in order to avoid violating past U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

As WNPR reported, the State wanted to raise the percentage of Black and Latino students in a program (e.g. magnet school) to be considered desegregated, or in a “reduced isolation” setting. The Sheff plaintiffs fought back, asking the Court to put a stop to this plan.

In particular, the State wanted to change the desegregation goal to be 80% Black and Latino on the grounds that the previous goal of 75% was numerically unreasonable. As Dr. Bilal Sekou wrote in his blog, the State wanted to change the definition of a desegregated school from 7 out of 10 Black and Latino students in a school to 8 out of 10, This change would have the effect of further concentrating Black and Latino students in choice programs like interdistrict magnet schools rather than using these choice programs as way to reduce racial isolation.

As I mentioned in the WNPR piece above, the Governor and State increasingly favor interventions such as segregated charter schools and education funding reforms, rather than choice programs for the purpose of racial desegregation. Thus, the attack on desegregation programs and the Sheff case in particular. In its effort to undermine desegregation, the State has listed a number of complaints about desegregation that get  close to being “dog-whistle” politics. (To learn about “dog-whistle” politics, read Ian Haney López’s, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.)

But on June 16, the Court balked at the State’s argument for greater racial segregation of magnet schools that were designed to assist desegregation. The State’s attempt to turn back the clock on desegregation is over for now. Matt Kauffman at the Hartford Courant and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas at the CTMirror covered the story and Judge Berger’s ruling (check out the links for their coverage). Still, the episode raises key questions about the State’s effort to undermine desegregation that I hope to tackle over the next few weeks.