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Courant: Costly School Building Projects May Have to Wait

Saturday January 10, 2009

Good Plan, Bad Timing
Integration Goals: Costly school building projects may have to wait
January 10, 2009
©The Hartford Courant

The state Department of Education has fleshed out a blueprint for school integration that promises to give all children more opportunities to broaden their educational horizons. The trick will be coming up with the money to implement the plan, estimated at $49 million over the next two years alone. The timing couldn’t be worse, with looming state budget deficits approaching $6 billion (yes, that’s billion, with a B) and towns also strapped for cash.

But putting off the five-year plan is not an option. The agreement on which it is based emerged from the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill court decision that called upon the state to end racial isolation in Hartford schools.

A better goal would be to end economic isolation, since poverty, not race, is the chief culprit in the disparity between city students’ overall achievements and that of more affluent suburbanites. Nonetheless, the Sheff decision is the law.

The aim of the newest agreement, which The Courant has supported, is to meet the request of 80 percent of Hartford students who seek places in racially diverse classrooms by the 2013-14 school year. In the dozen years since the Sheff ruling, only 9 percent have been accommodated. Racial balance goals have lagged, but test scores of children attending Sheff-related schools have improved.

To meet the new threshold, the state’s strategy is for magnet schools to be built in the suburbs that will accommodate Hartford students. Also, suburbs would be encouraged to expand places for Hartford children in their schools and add positions in racially diverse preschools, agricultural programs and trade schools. Under the plan, towns would be given financial incentives to widen participation in Open Choice, which has a waiting list.

Legislators will have to be magicians to come up with this kind of money in trying times. Yet they are obliged to do so. Instead of building new schools from scratch, thought should be given to recycling empty buildings, particularly schools that have been shuttered, or making do with temporary quarters for magnet schools until the economy rebounds.

Also, there should be some aid in the wings under the Obama administration’s promised economic-recovery package that would put people to work building roads, bridges, and schools. Surely, the goal of providing a diverse education for all children is compelling.

Do you agree? Or disagree? Be heard with a Letter to the Editor: www.courant.com/writeletter

Link: courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-sheffplan.art.artjan10,0,1694035.story