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SETTLEMENT REACHED IN CT SHEFF LITIGATION

Twenty-five years after the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the state was denying Hartford students their right under the state constitution to substantially equal educational opportunities, the parties reached agreement on a settlement, subject to legislative approval of the additional funding required to implement the comprehensive settlement plan. The plan approved by the Court will provide Hartford students access to magnet schools and Open Choice seats in suburban districts.

Over the years, Hartford’s schools grew more segregated, but the opportunities for attending regional magnet schools as well as suburban schools through the voluntary Open Choice program increased dramatically as the state financed the construction of magnet schools, pursuant to stipulations and court orders in the case. Currently, there are 40 magnet schools in Hartford and the surrounding region.

The plan commits the state to increase seats and access to these programs. It will also seek to enhance the quality of the magnet schools, and provide additional supports and services to students attending them, expanded extracurricular programs,  incentives for suburban districts to expand open choice programs and funding for marketing and communications initiatives. 

The agreement commits $1.24 million in additional magnet school funding for the 2022 fiscal year, with commitments increasing to $32 million annually by the 2032 fiscal year. Capital costs associated with renovation of the new magnet schools are estimated at $48.7 million. A unique sustainability provision in the agreement also commits the state to maintaining base per pupil magnet funding at least at current levels, whatever the state’s financial condition and even if per pupil funding amounts are reduced elsewhere in the state. 

Student assignment policies based on socio-economic status (race-based assignments are precluded by U.S. Supreme Court mandates) will aim to achieve stated student diversity goals and reduce racial isolation. 

Martha Stone, an attorney for the Hartford students, said this stipulation is different than the 2020 agreement and five other stipulations over the years designed to desegregate the schools, because it includes a detailed plan and funding for that plan.

“During these three decades thousands of children have benefited from the opportunity to attend quality integrated schools, but unfortunately thousands have been put on wait lists or have been denied that opportunity in other ways,” she told the Court.

The settlement includes a creative approach to judicial oversight of the implementation of this complex agreement. The Court will retain jurisdiction of the case for the next 10 years, but it will only become actively involved if there is substantial non-compliance with major defined “material terms” of the agreement. The defendants may, however, make changes in response to “changing or unexpected conditions or opportunities during the period of the injunction ….as long as such adjustments do not impede the overall goals and material terms of the plan.

 

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