Connecticut’s final 2013 budget includes more money for suburban school districts that accept urban students through the Open Choice program. Open Choice is seen as an important way for the state to meet its desegregation goals in the long-running Sheff vs. O’Neill case.
Back in 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Hartford’s segregated schools violated the state’s Constitution. The state responded with a mix of voluntary programs to try and integrate the schools. They include Open Choice, a 2-way transfer program that allows kids to attend schools outside their district.
Over the years, suburban towns said they couldn’t afford to take in many urban students because they weren’t receiving enough state money to educate them well.
Bruce Douglas is executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council which runs the Open Choice program. He says that although money to towns has risen slowly over the years, the state had to increase the reimbursement rate in order to meet its desegregation goals.
"The state recently agreed through legislation to provide up to $8,000 per child participating in the Open Choice program when a school district reached up to 4% of its student population coming from Hartford."
He says that’s much closer to the actual cost of educating students.
"It makes the Choice program more appealing to everyone. It gives more opportunities for children living within Hartford and children in the suburbs who want to go into Hartford. It also reimburses the school districts and provides an incentive for them to accept more children."
There are currently about 2500 children enrolled in Open Choice. About 30 school districts participate.