Broadening the Discussion About Enrollment in Hartford Region Magnet Schools: What is going on with state funding of magnet schools?

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Connecticut Governor’s Proposed Budget for 2018 & 2019

Source: CT Office of Policy and Management, 2017.

Over the last several months, there has been an organized campaign to undermine school desegregation in Connecticut. Most recently, a lawsuit has been launched challenging desegregation standards used for enrollment in Connecticut’s magnet schools. While some of the debate is related to frustration by parents in navigating school choice in Hartford, other parts are being manufactured with partial assessments of story. While I’ll deal with the lottery, desegregation standards, and profit motives in a later post, I want to broaden the discussion right now to funding of enrollment.

A focal point of the recent controversy has been the issue of the Regional School Choice Office lottery and the assignment of students to these schools to meet desegregation standards. For many, the Sheff v. O’Neill case and desegregation standards are the culprit for magnet schools not accepting more students for enrollment. This is not an completely accurate assessment.

In addition to the student assignment process and desegregation standards, assigning more students to magnet schools also requires dealing with funding and tradeoffs in terms of enrollment, staffing, and use of facilities (e.g. school closures) that have not been given their due consideration.

In this post, let’s talk about funding towards desegregation programs such as magnet schools. If the goal was to have more students in magnet schools, then that goal would have to be funded. But over the last year or two, funding for racially diverse magnet schools has been cut by the State Legislature and Governor.

For example, the 2017 budget implementer cut funding to racially diverse magnet schools in the state overall by $2 million from ’17-’18 to ’18-’19 while increasing funding to racially isolated charter schools by over $6 million (mostly by expanding enrollment, not the per pupil funding amount). In addition, funds towards the Sheff settlement remained flat at $11 million.

On the other hand, the the budget increased funds for the Open Choice program, which may help individual students. Yet, Open Choice financially helps suburban districts more than cities like Hartford, which rely on magnet schools to generate revenue.

Selected Allocations for Education Spending in CT (full list)

Source: CT General Assembly, Public Act 17-2, 2017.

Second, the Legislature and Governor gave the Commissioner authority to restrict funding on magnet schools to the levels of previous years. The 2017 budget implementer for fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19 read as follows:

(6) For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, and within available appropriations, the department may limit payment to an interdistrict magnet school operator to an amount equal to the grant that such magnet school operator was eligible to receive based on the enrollment level of the interdistrict magnet school program on October 1, 2013, October 1, 2015, or October 1, 2016, whichever is lower. Approval of funding for enrollment above such enrollment level shall be prioritized by the department and subject to the commissioner’s approval, including increases in enrollment in an interdistrict magnet school program as a result of planned and approved new grade levels. Any interdistrict magnet school program operating less than full-time, but at least half-time, shall be eligible to receive a grant equal to sixty-five per cent of the grant amount determined pursuant to this subsection.

What this means is a State cap on enrollment in magnet schools to only those experiencing enrollment increases through adding grades levels. Furthermore, any increases in funding for magnets are at the discretion of the commissioner. In part, this has resulted in cuts at magnet schools at CREC and in Hartford as costs rise in those districts. Cuts have also been made in non-magnet schools in these and other districts because magnet funds also assist in funding districts like Hartford in paying for all schools, including non-magnets.

This makes the task of attracting a racially and economically diverse group of families to magnets or non-magnets even more difficult since suburban families or well-off Hartford families can simply decide to keep their kids in local suburban or private schools/programs instead of magnet and non-magnet schools facing deep cuts to staff or programming.

I’m not necessarily arguing for infinite increases on enrollment for magnet schools in Connecticut here. What I’m saying is that we must look beyond the lottery and desegregation standards when thinking about why magnet enrollment is flat or declining.

At least part of the issue is the State has decided to put its money elsewhere such as charter schools and small increases to education cost sharing (e.g. equalization) grants for traditional school districts in 2018 & 2019, for example. Yet, those small increases were diminished by Legislative cuts in the 2018 revisions, particularly to education equalization grants, special education, and other funds.

In sum, even if magnet schools were to add more students and meet their desegregation standards (and if this were desirable or without any additional consequences) there is no guarantee that the State would fund them more because the Legislature and Governor are not going to fund increases to the magnet school grants that also supplement district budgets. And the fallout is that Sheff plaintiffs and case gets much of the blame for flat enrollment at magnet schools, even though the State plays a major, if not, the most important role here. Indeed, it is the State of Connecticut that is supposed to affirmatively address racial segregation and reduce racial isolation caused by State policies in housing and schools.

Have a question about school desegregation? Send it in the comments and maybe I’ll answer it!

Walk A Mile In Our Shoes – Milner Parents Demonstrate Walk to SAND School

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Below is a summary of a parent demonstration and explanation of why Milner School parents decided on this walk.

The Hartford Board of Education intends to close Milner School and force families to transfer to struggling schools in the North End such as Wish and SAND. Because transportation would not be provided for all students to the new schools because of grade and distance restrictions, Milner School parents showed what the walk from Milner to SAND is like on June 12, 2018. The streets between the schools are littered with trash, have open drug dealing, and gun violence even in broad daylight. They used the walk to highlight the fact that the Mayor and Board of Education will be forcing their children to walk through this part of the neighborhood everyday starting in 2019-20.

For this walk, parents had a police escort along the way. With police presence, the trip was fairly peaceful. However, shorty after the walk, the police escort was called to a crime scene one street next to where parents walked. It appeared that the SWAT team and at least five other police cars raided a house and there was talk of gun shots fired. This happened directly in between Milner and SAND school where students would have to walk to school everyday if Milner were to close and transportation not provided. This is precisely the parents point: closing Milner school without providing transportation for all kids to new schools is a dangerous policy.

See some photos from the walk here. You can read the Hartford Courant’s report here.

Views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Trinity College.

In Hartford schools, which parents and students matter? A preliminary case analysis of Batchelder School and Montessori Magnet

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But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.” The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire, Chapter 1


Continue reading In Hartford schools, which parents and students matter? A preliminary case analysis of Batchelder School and Montessori Magnet

In Hartford, do Black and Latino teachers matter?

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(Source:, CT SDE, 2018)

This week kicked off a Black Lives Matter Movement Week of Action in Schools. A key demand was the addition of Black teachers, which has become a national discussion. As a result of school closures, the Hartford Public Schools may be going in the exact opposite direction by closing schools with high proportions of Black and Latino teachers.

Several weeks ago, the Hartford Board of Education voted to close Milner, Simpson-Waverly, and Batchelder school. In addition to questions about following Board policy, actual benefits to parents, and arbitrary reasoning, there are issues with regard to a disproportionate impact on mostly Black, and to a lesser extent, Latino teachers.

Traditionally, Hartford has had one of the highest proportions of Black and Latino teachers in the State of Connecticut likely due to a combination of factors including job discrimination and a desire to work with Black and Latino students. In particular, Black teachers in Hartford have often worked in North End schools where there are large proportions of Black school children. However, since the mid-2000s, Hartford has lost substantial numbers of Black and Latino teachers. As I wrote a few years ago, the Hartford Public Schools’ decade-long decline in teachers of color could be the result of factors such as NCLB certification requirements, school closures and reconstitution, expansion of choice programs, and teacher temp programs like Teach for America. In short, when educational reforms happen that seek to disrupt governance and labor arrangements in schools with mostly Black and Latino students, then Black and Latino teachers often bear the brunt of these reforms given their historical positioning in these schools.

According to State Department of Education data, there were 1,992 teachers in the Hartford Public Schools in 2015-16. 462 of these teachers were Black and Latino. That’s about 23% of all teachers in Hartford are Black and Latino.

At the school level, there is a moderate to strong relationship between percent Black and Latino teacher and the percent of Black and Latino students. You can view the data visualization below to see how each school measures up in terms of percentage Black and Latino teachers compared to students.

At Milner and Simpson-Waverly, the proportions of Black and Latino teachers are much higher than most other schools in the district. At Simpson-Waverly, (mostly) Black and Latino teachers are 20 out of 34 teachers or 58.8% of all teachers at the school. At Milner, (mostly) Black and Latino teachers are 15 out of 35, or 42% of all teachers at the school. Far less impacted in this regard, Batchelder school has 20% Black and Latino teachers.

Simpson-Waverly and Milner have among the top five highest proportions of Black and Latino teachers in the entire school district. Closing all three schools impacts 44 Black and Latino teachers out of 462 Black and Latino teachers, which is just shy of 10% of all Black and Latino teachers in the district.  Closing these three schools potentially smashes the ranks of teachers of color, particularly Black teachers.

In sum, when schools with high proportions of Black and Latino students close, Black and Latino teachers bear a disproportionate impact of these closures including loss of jobs. In the case of Hartford, what will happen to these Black and Latino teachers and the relationship with their students if these schools close?

Note: 2015-16 is the most recent data on teacher demographics from the CT State Department of Education. So there may be changes since 2015-16 to now, 2017-18. Asian and American Indian teachers are included in the chart here. In addition to teachers, there are paraprofessionals educators,  specialists, and other staff in a school that shape the schooling experience. The Edsight does not currently have that demographic data available.

Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools: More Black/Ethnic History, Teachers, and Restorative Justice

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Today kicks off the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools  (February 5-10). According to the Rethinking Schools, this particular event stems from some action out of Seattle, WA in 2016. The demands of the Black Lives Matter at School national movement are:

End Zero Tolerance, and Implement Restorative Justice.

Hire More Black Teachers in our Schools.

Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12.

The demands are related to major parts of the national Movement for Black for Lives platform, including a federal right to education (Invest/Divest) and an end to school privatization/charter schools, school closures, and mayoral-controlled school boards (Community Control), all issues we are grappling with in Hartford, Connecticut. Here are the two statements on these issues from the national platform.

A Constitutional Right at the State and Federal Level to a Fully Funded Education Which Includes a Clear Articulation of the Right To: A Free Education For All, Special Protections For Queer and Trans Students, Wrap Around Services, Social Workers, Free Health Services, A Curriculum that Acknowledges and Addresses Student’s Material and Cultural Needs, Physical Activity and Recreation, High Quality Food, Free Daycare, and Freedom From Search, Seizure or Arrest
An End to the Privatization of Education and Real Community Control by Parents, Students and Community Members of Schools Including Democratic School Boards and Community Control of Curriculum, Hiring/Firing, and Discipline Policies