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.

Discussion on the Hartford Public Schools Budget 2017-18

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Tomorrow (6/9/2017) at 12:30 p.m., the Hartford Board of Education* will vote on the Superintendent’s proposed budget with significant cuts to programs and schools. The vote will take place in the Superintendent’s Conference at 960 Main Street, Hartford, CT. HPS faces uncertainty for a variety of reasons and possible cuts in State education funding, along with flat funding from the City of Hartford. As I wrote in 2016, this is the same situation that has happened over the last few years.

This year, HPS faces a $26 million budget gap. This gap includes about $13.5 million increase in costs and $12.6 million in cuts to State education funds and other grants. Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 3.30.58 PM

In order to make up part of the gap, HPS requested $3 million more from the City of Hartford. In order to make up the rest of the gap of about $23 million, HPS proposed cutting that much in services and staff. Although this is not the biggest cut ever, it’s still substantial with a reduction of more than 80 positions in total for about $6 million in savings, plus reduction in services and contracts.

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Up until recently, the budget appeared to be balanced based on this plan. However, when the City of Hartford (Mayor and City Council) passed its budget, it did not include the additional $3 million in funds for the schools. After even more cuts, HPS still faces an additional $2 million gap.

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Hartford relies heavily on State grants, so the flat funding, cuts, and uncertainty here complicate the issue. To be sure, flat city funding is also an issue that Hartford and other school districts face. As a comparison, some other school districts in the region requested and got more funds from their town and cities this year (e.g. Farmington (low turnout), West Hartford). Some towns, like Windsor and Berlin (lack of turnout), rejected their proposed budget increases through a referendum. And Bloomfield reduced its contribution to the schools.

The problem for HPS may be sharper since it hasn’t had an increase in City funding for almost a decade. And State funds and cuts have made up the difference. But those are uncertain this year, again.

Check out the proposed budget, budget presentation, and Finance Committee documents below and stay tuned!

*I am an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education.

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The state of Bi-lingual Education at the CT Puerto Rican Agenda Founding Assembly, June 3, 2017

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This Saturday, June 3, 2017, the CT Puerto Rican Agenda will have its founding assembly in New Haven. I’ll be participating in the workshop entitled, “The State of Bi-lingual Education in CT.” In addition to this workshop, there will be plenty of other key discussions on topics that Boricuas (Puerto Ricans) face in Connecticut. (Schedule here)

One aspect of bilingual education that I hope to discuss is dual-language approaches to bilingualism. Right now, the CT Mirror has a series running on dual-language approaches, so this discussion is timely. And for Hartford residents, we had robust dual-language instruction, had it stripped away in the education “reform” years, and advocates are now trying to get dual language back as one aspect of a broader bilingual education effort. Below I share some documents about my efforts to push the Hartford Public Schools to reconsider dual-language approaches.

Join us Saturday and you’ll hear more about my interpretation and other speakers such as Rose Reyes and Daisy Torres. The assembly begins at 9 a.m. and this workshop (below) starts at 10:30 a.m.

The state of Bi-lingual Education in CT (Moderated by: Yanil Terón, Executive Director of the Center for Latino Progress)


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New report on charter management fees in Connecticut

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Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 2.56.12 PMSource: CT SDE, 2016; Rodriguez, 2016

A few years ago, I wrote in about charter management fees charged by private companies that manage charter schools in Connecticut. The total management fees added up to millions in state dollars diverted from charter schools to these management companies. A new report from CEA, the state’s largest teachers union, (prepared by Rodriguez Data Solutions, LLC) shows that these charter management fees are growing at a higher rate than overall State spending on charter schools in Connecticut.

Not all charter schools in Connecticut charge pay management fees. In fact, most charter schools do not pay management fees, so the report looks closely on the handful that do: Achievement First, Domus, Great Oaks, and Our Piece of the Pie. The charter management schools charge fees at charter schools in the cities that serve mostly Black and some Latinx students.

You can take a look at the Executive Summary of the report below and the data here. As a result of these findings, the CEA has urged legislators:

  • to review the revenue sources and expenditures of corporate-style charter schools and is specifically calling for
  • The prohibition of management fees in all Connecticut charter schools
  • More accountability and transparency of all charter schools
  • An investigative audit of all CMOs
  • Total disclosure of CMO finances
  • Public disclosure of all CMO information through the state’s Freedom of Information Act
  • A moratorium on future charter school expansion

What do you think?

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