Equity 2020 Committee members LaKeisha McFarland, Natalie Langlaise, Shontá Browdy speaking to the Hartford Board of Education on October 18, 2016 at Hartford Public High School media center with concerns about consultant proposals to close schools given to the Equity 2020 Committee.
What is the Equity 2020 Committee?
The Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools selected members of the Equity 2020 Committee to 1.) improve quality education for all students and 2.) create a facilities plan that will “streamline” the district, including school closing and consolidations. These two goals are in potential conflict.
Learn more about the committee here: Hartford Public Schools “Equity 2020”
How did we get here?
In 2007, the Hartford Public Schools started an educational reform that relied on intra- and inter-district school choice and hyper-accountability using standardized test results. The “theory of action” was to close schools with low test results and expand school with higher test results. This theory of action is based on the ideology that public education is better when schools compete, and when schools don’t meet standardized test targets, then private enterprise can manage all or parts of school functions. As a market-oriented reform, these policies promoted competition between schools for students, space, and funds.
From one perspective, this reform was a well-executed way to destabilize the most vulnerable schools that would set up business opportunities for private enterprises to exploit (e.g. Achievement First charter schools, Capital Prep Schools, Inc., Teach for America, Opportunity High School-Our Piece of the Pie, Jumoke/FUSE). On the other hand, these reforms were poorly designed to ensure quality education for all students and left many schools severely under-enrolled through the process of unregulated/unplanned school choice and constant crisis from high-stakes testing.
Inter-district magnet schools were one of the components of the school choice strategy. The State created these schools to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. Magnet schools have been primarily used to fulfill the Sheff v. O’Neill court order and have doubled in enrollment across the state over the last 15 years or so. Magnet schools are public schools operated by either Hartford Public Schools, Capital Region Education Council, or local colleges, and can be considered a controlled-choice program. In addition, Hartford student participation in the Open Choice program has also increased.
(Note: When students leave to private charter school districts such as the segregated Achievement First and Jumoke Academies, this does not help in fulfilling any State integration goals. The growth of charter schools in Hartford is faster than magnet schools, but magnet schools have higher overall enrollment.)
The State of Connecticut oversees Hartford-area magnet schools and has limited planning for enrollment and implementation of this policy. Hartford students have enrolled in HPS and CREC magnet schools and that has caused some of the decline of HPS enrollment. But the HPS magnet schools and Open Choice have also brought in more than 4,000 students from outside of Hartford. This influx of regional students and dollars has mitigated the some of the financial and enrollment issues that Hartford faces. Magnet schools and Open Choice are one part, but not the whole story of how we got here.
In addition to poorly planned market-oriented reforms (e.g. school choice), Hartford and the region have fewer births and children than a decade ago. The City of Hartford simply has fewer children than past decades. The combination of school choice, poor planning, fewer children/declining population have combined so that some schools have low “occupancy” rates. With the budget crisis at the State and City level, there is increased pressure to save money. Closing schools can be viewed as a way for the City of Hartford to save money.
The schools that Milone and McBroom proposes to close are mostly Black and Latino non-magnet schools that the District and State diminished through unplanned school choice, taking away funds when kids leave a school, and overall neglect of program and building. (Remember, the HPS “theory of action” is that school choice and high-stakes testing would force schools with low test results to improve and get more students, or get closed and turned over to private managers.) As I mentioned previously, closing these particular schools (all but one are in the North End) would likely compound the historic, class-based neglect and institutional racism that these schools have already faced.
What were the proposals from the hired consultant to the Equity 2020 committee and Hartford Board of Education?
The company Milone and McBroom offered 3 plans for school closings and consolidations. Depending on the plan, MLK, Milner, Burns, Wish, Simpson-Waverly could potentially close. Weaver would be rebuilt and Achievement First private charter school would use the whole Lewis Fox building rent-free. These proposals were created by Milone and McBroom, not the full Equity 2020 committee membership.
Here are the enrollment findings:
You can see the possible plans here:
Who hired Milone and McBroom and for how much?
The appointed Hartford School Building Committee hired Milone and McBroom to create enrollment projections for the Weaver High School renovation project (see the signed contract below). Since that time, the enrollment projections for Weaver have changed twice. In order to do an updated facilities planning, the Hartford School Building (and HPS staff) hired Milone and McBroom at a price tag of $180,000 and the City of Hartford has paid them $81,000 of that total to date using Capital Improvement Funds. Milone and McBroom have partnered with the SLAM collaborative to create the Equity 2020 plans. SLAM collaborative is the architect for the Weaver High School renovation project.
What is the current and proposed HPS School Closing Policy
In September 2016, the Hartford Board of Education proposed a new school closing and consolidation policy. The revised policy would make it easier for the School Board to close schools and with less community input.
Proposed/Revised School Closing & Consolidation Policy
What are other groups’ opinions on the consultant plans?
The Greater Hartford Branch of the NAACP has called for a halt on all school closings, citing the potential for civil rights violations.
Mayor, City of Hartford