Greater Hartford's inter-district magnet
schools are models for school choice. They are helping close the
achievement gap and achieve racial balance in the classroom. Children
from both urban and suburban backgrounds are lined up in droves
to claim a limited number of slots.
The state has an obligation to make
good on promised opportunities for children. It also has a responsibility
to protect taxpayer investment in about a dozen regional learning
centers built in response to the Sheff vs. O'Neill court order to
Yet the regional magnet system is threatened by inconsistent funding.
At least two participating towns, Windsor
and Ellington, say they cannot afford to give as many students as
promised the choice of attending a regional magnet next year.
In an effort to keep their budgets
in check, Windsor is reducing from 30 to 20 the number of students
it will send to the Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield.
Educators fear that budget pressure will prompt other suburban districts
to pull back on their commitment to magnets.
It makes no sense to starve an idea
that is flourishing or to leave the survival of excellent magnet
schools to chance. The General Assembly must come up with a better
funding system to prevent that from happening.
The per-pupil cost of sending a child
to a magnet school next year will be $11,000. Of that, the state
would pay about $6,500 and the towns about $2,500. There also are
costs for transportation.
The numbers don't add up. Each year,
according to Bruce Douglas of the Connecticut Regional Education
Council, which runs the magnets, his organization must ask the legislature
to fund the gap. That proposed supplement for next year totals $7.5
If Connecticut is serious about offering
school choice and achieving racial balance, it must figure out a
more reliable and realistic funding formula that eliminates the
need for supplemental appropriations.
A legislative task force is studying
the present system, which is clearly out of date. For example, it
does not account for cost-of-living increases.
Besides a fair funding formula, experts
are right that there needs to be a broader, statewide plan for magnet
schools, including where best to put them so all regions can offer
choices to children.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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