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Journal Inquirer: State Residents Support Sheff Initiatives

Thursday June 12, 2008

State Residents Support Sheff Initiatives
by Christine McCluskey
June 12, 2008
©Journal Inquirer

Most state residents support the voluntary integration programs created by the Sheff vs. O’Neill settlement but many are unaware of those programs, particularly the Open Choice program that brings urban students to suburban schools, according to a new University of Connecticut poll.

The poll showed that 76 percent of residents support giving parents the choice of sending their children to schools outside their home school system. This is more than in 1997, when 58 percent of residents supported interdistrict public school choice.

Since 1997, though, there has been a noticeable decrease in the percentage of people who are aware of the Sheff vs. O’Neill settlement and the programs it created.

The survey found 56 percent of residents had not even heard of the case. In 1997, 70 percent of residents had heard of Sheff, while today that number is 43 percent.

About a third of urban residents were aware of the case, compared with 47 percent of suburban residents.

Only 10 percent of all residents were aware of the Open Choice program, but 62 percent were aware of the regional magnet schools, and 83 percent supported the idea of magnet schools.

“Connecticut residents strongly endorse the voluntary, public school choice approach toward integrating the schools,” Kenneth Dautrich, UConn professor of public policy, said. Dautrich supervised the research.

The UConn poll of a representative sample of 1,010 Connecticut adults was conducted from April 5 to 7. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 3 percent.

The plaintiffs in the Sheff case sued state government in 1989, when the late William A. O’Neill was governor, fighting a seven-year legal battle until a Superior Court judge ruled that racial, ethnic, and economic isolation in Hartford-area schools violates the state Constitution.

A series of magnet schools and Open Choice programs were launched in response to an initial settlement in 2003, but that agreement expired last year without meeting all its benchmarks for reducing isolation.

A Superior Court judge on Wednesday approved the latest settlement in the case, the Associated Press reported.

It requires the state to develop a detailed plan to address racial disparity. It calls for more magnet schools and an increase in the number of spots available in suburban schools for Hartford students.

The agreement also requires that at least 80 percent of Hartford students who want to attend integrated schools be accommodated by 2012.