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Courant Editorial: Hope For Sheff Success

Tuesday July 1, 2008

Hartford Courant Editorial: Hope For Sheff Success
July 1, 2008
©The Hartford Courant

The latest settlement in the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation case has the best chance yet of achieving voluntary racial balance in schools–which in concept has overwhelming public support.

So says a survey by the University of Connecticut, which found that three-quarters of Connecticut residents support public school choice, a substantial increase from 58 percent in 1997.

The settlement represents a new opportunity for regional cooperation, which up to now has been uneven.

The new goals call for 80 percent of students who seek places in integrated schools to be accommodated within five years. The plan relies on suburban towns to build magnet schools that would accept urban students, and to increase the number of Hartford children who attend classes in the suburbs under the Project Choice program.

Above all, it streamlines the application process for enrollment and creates a single marketing office for magnets. This should cut down on the red tape that has kept some city children from applying for a slot.

Some legislators have worried aloud about the potential cost–more than $450 million for school construction and another $125 million to operate them. Yet that’s enough for only about four schools–many fewer than needed. Still, it’s a fresh start.

Desegregation is the law. Everyone agrees it is best if the process is voluntary. But it won’t happen quickly unless the state offers more incentives for towns and cities to participate–and lets them know they are expected to do so. Hartford officials have been reluctant to lose their best students to other towns, and some suburbs have been slow to embrace the program known as Project Choice in Hartford and Open Choice throughout the state.

Some critics have characterized the Sheff agreement as the wrong remedy for improving Hartford’s schools, fearing it will divert attention from the city’s heroic efforts to improve achievement. But what better way to help students achieve their potential than by allowing them to learn in a classroom beside children of all backgrounds?