Topic:
DESEGREGATION; EDUCATION (GENERAL); SCHOOLS (GENERAL);
Location:
EDUCATION - DESEGREGATION;

OLR Research Report


January 27, 2003 2003-R-0112

(Revised)

SHEFF V. O'NEILL SETTLEMENT

The Sheff v. O'Neill agreement, entered into on January 22, 2003, must be submitted to the General Assembly for its approval and ordered by the court in order to take effect. Its provisions aim to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation in the Hartford public schools. It requires the state to (1) create eight new interdistrict magnet schools in Hartford, (2) expand the Open Choice program to provide additional seats in suburban schools for minority public school students from Hartford, and (3) provide increased funding for interdistrict cooperative programs serving Hartford public school students. The parties intend for the agreement to remain in effect until June 30, 2007.

GOAL OF THE AGREEMENT

The agreement identifies the parties' goal as providing at least 30% of Hartford students with an educational experience with reduced isolation by using interdistrict magnet schools, the Open Choice program, and interdistrict cooperative programs. As the parties acknowledge that approximately 10% of students are currently meeting this requirement, the agreement would require participation to triple over the next four years. This goal is not directly enforceable, but the state's failure to make significant progress toward it may be considered by the court in determining future plans or orders.

The formula for measuring progress is calculated by dividing the sum of (1) minority public school students from Hartford attending public schools in other districts through the Open Choice program, (2) minority public school students from Hartford attending public interdistrict magnet schools in Hartford and elsewhere, and (3) a factor for increases in funding for interdistrict cooperative programs, by the total number of minority public school students living in Hartford.

The agreement also prohibits the state from reducing its funding and in-kind support to Hartford interdistrict magnet schools, the Open Choice program, or interdistrict cooperative programs serving Hartford minority students.

MAGNET SCHOOLS

The agreement requires the state to create eight new interdistrict magnet schools in Hartford at the rate of two schools per year. These schools must serve approximately 600 students each. The state may decide to make one or more of these schools a regional magnet school. Failure to open two new host magnet schools in any of the four years covered by the agreement may be considered a material breach, triggering further meetings by the parties or consideration by the court. The agreement requires the State Department of Education (SDE) to work with the Hartford school board to ensure the magnet schools are successfully planned and opened.

The state must provide sufficient resources to plan, develop, open, and operate the new magnet schools. The parties' estimates of the annual costs of these activities, not including construction, are illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1: Annual costs of new Hartford magnet schools, 2003-2007

 

2003-04

2004-05

2005-06

2006-07

Interdistrict Magnet Schools

$3,180,000

6,360,000

9,540,000

12,720,000

The agreement also requires the state to fund eligible school construction costs for the magnet schools. The reimbursement rate for magnet school projects is 95%, and school construction costs are capped at $1 billion for FYs 2003-04 and 2004-05 (PAs 02-5 and 02-6, May 9 Special Session). In light of these constraints, SDE must encourage opening the new magnet schools at schools that have been, or are scheduled to be, renovated in accordance with Hartford's long-term school building plan.

After accommodating students from Hartford and member towns in accordance with the approved enrollment of any interdistrict magnet school, vacant suburban seats may be open, by lottery, to any parent or student who is a resident of a Sheff region town (which includes Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, East Granby, East Hartford, East Windsor, Ellington, Farmington, Glastonbury, Granby, Hartford, Manchester, Newington, Rocky Hill, Simsbury, South Windsor, Suffield, Vernon, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Windsor, and Windsor Locks). These students will be allowed to attend and their sending towns must provide local support equal to the per-pupil tuition charged to member towns. This amount can be withheld from the sending town's education cost sharing grant and provided to the magnet school if necessary. Similar local support requirements have been proposed unsuccessfully to the General Assembly in recent years, such as SB 387 in 2002 and HB 6826 in 2001.

By law, the approved enrollment for an interdistrict magnet school before July 1, 2005 is restricted so that no more than 80% of students may come from one participating district. After July 1, 2005, no more than 75% of students can come from one participating district, and at least 25% but no more than 75%

may be members of racial minorities. Under the agreement, the percentage of minority students at the eight interdistrict magnet schools created by the agreement may not exceed the Sheff region minority percentage plus 30%.

OPEN CHOICE

The agreement requires the Open Choice program to be expanded annually to meet the demand for seats. The program must provide at least 1,000 seats for minority public school students from Hartford in 2003-04, 1,200 in 2004-05, 1,400 in 2005-06, and 1,600 in 2006-07.

These seats may come from certain participating towns outside of the Sheff region and still count toward reducing racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. The education commissioner must use his best efforts to encourage suburban districts to participate in the program. If he believes that a district has greater capacity than it reports, he can independently review the space available in the program's suburban districts.

There are approximately 845 Hartford students participating in the Open Choice program for the 2002-03 school year. Additional seats were available but were not filled because it was too far from Hartford to the offering districts, such as Hartland and Ellington, and there was no available transportation.

Under the agreement, the commissioner will periodically evaluate the progress of participation in the Open Choice program and may take steps to increase participation. Minority students from Hartford participating in Open Choice will not be counted as contributing toward the goal unless they attend a school with a minority student enrollment percentage within the Sheff region minority percentage enrollment plus 30%.

The agreement requires $250,000 annually to be added, beyond the statutory funding formula, to fund transportation costs for Hartford students in the Open Choice program. Table 2 shows the agreement's provisions regarding the minimum number of seats required, supplemental transportation costs, and estimated expenditures for the Open Choice program.

Table 2: Open Choice program seats and costs

 

2003-04

2004-05

2005-06

2006-07

Number of seats required

1,000

1,200

1,400

1,600

Supplemental transportation costs

$250,000

500,000

750,000

1,000,000

Estimated expenditures

$820,000

1,640,000

2,480,000

3,360,000

INTERDISTRICT COOPERATIVE PROGRAMS

The agreement requires the state to increase funding for interdistrict cooperative programs serving Hartford public school students not enrolled in a magnet school or in Open Choice, and to give preference to program proposals that provide substantial contact between Hartford students and white suburban students. SDE must give preference to proposals that will expose Hartford minority students to magnet school and Open Choice programs, such as activities that take place at a magnet school or in a suburban school district that participates in the Open Choice program. The agreement calls for $250,000 to be added each year (resulting in $1,000,000 in additional funding by the fourth year, 2006-07), beyond the existing state appropriation, for Hartford programs to expand opportunities for Hartford students.

According to the agreement, the Sheff plaintiffs do not believe that interdistrict cooperative programs reduce student isolation. But both sides recognize that part-time interdistrict cooperative grant programs provide educational benefits to their participants, and so they are included in the plan.

PLANNING

The agreement requires SDE to provide the necessary assistance and support to the Hartford public schools to ensure the programs succeed. This includes helping to (1) develop and coordinate host magnet themes, program development, and staff training, the order and location of host magnet schools to be opened, and the renovation or construction of the host magnets; (2) coordinate an advertising and publicity strategy for the programs and develop a central location for parents to receive information and apply to the various programs; and (3) update the long-term plan for Hartford magnet schools and coordinate regional and host magnet school staff development.

The parties agree that certain administrative and funding issues exist that may impede implementation of a successful program to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. These include (1) state and local funding for regional and host magnet schools, (2) transportation, and (3) the Open Choice program, including space availability at suburban schools. The parties hope that the task force on public interdistrict magnet school opportunity recently appointed by the governor and the General Assembly will address some of these issues. That task force is charged with evaluating alternative funding methods for interdistrict magnet schools and issues of parent choice and portability of pupil funding. It was supposed to report to the General Assembly by January 15, 2003, but had not done so as of the date of this report.

REPORTING, CONSULTING, AND ADJUSTING

The agreement calls on the commissioner and SDE regularly to monitor the programs aimed at reducing racial, ethnic, and economic isolation in accordance with SDE's and local school districts' existing statutory reporting duties. The defendants must annually share with the plaintiffs the data by which they calculate progress toward reducing isolation, as well as additional available data concerning such programs as the plaintiffs request. No later than December 31, 2006, the parties will meet to review the progress made over the four years and discuss possible future actions. The parties will also meet at

least twice each year, on or before April 1 and November 1, to assess progress on implementing the terms of the agreement and discuss possible barriers to its successful implementation.

The agreement allows the plaintiffs to offer suggestions at any time about how to improve the programs and requires SDE to consider them. SDE must also solicit the plaintiffs' comments and suggestions and include them in any reports the commissioner has to file with the General Assembly or the governor. The State Board of Education files its next biennial report on statewide efforts to reduce student isolation and recommendations for further progress on February 1, 2003, and SDE must seek plaintiffs' input for inclusion. The agreement also specifies, however, that it does not empower or authorize the plaintiffs to participate in the oversight or operation of the Hartford public schools; efforts to reduce student isolation throughout the state; or the policy decisions and daily administration of any of the programs aimed at reducing racial, ethnic, or economic isolation in the Hartford school district.

The state must grant to one expert retained by the plaintiffs reasonable access to SDE staff members and non-privileged documents, and agree to make information available about students who are assigned as a result of the agreement, as long as the information does not violate any student's privacy rights. The state must also pay for an expert of the plaintiffs' choosing, to a maximum of $500 per day and $6,000 per year, with an additional $6,000 in the last year, for a total of $30,000 over the four-year period.

The agreement prohibits the plaintiffs from initiating further litigation during the period of the agreement, which runs until June 30, 2007. If the plaintiffs believe that the state has materially failed to implement specific terms in the agreement, the parties will meet to try to resolve the issue. If they cannot resolve the issue, the agreement allows the plaintiffs to seek a determination from the court regarding whether a material breach has occurred. If the court finds a material breach has occurred, the plaintiffs can seek appropriate relief. The agreement also allows the plaintiffs to seek further enforcement of the 1996 Sheff v. O'Neill decision after June 30, 2007.

The agreement is null and void until it is authorized by the General Assembly, duly executed by all parties, and ordered by the court. Having been signed by counsel for the plaintiffs and by the attorney general, the agreement must be submitted to the General Assembly for approval or disapproval by February 13, 2003. Pursuant to Joint Rule 32, the General Assembly then has 30 days from the date of submittal to act upon it. If it is not approved or deemed approved by the General Assembly, it is null and void; if the legislature approves it, the parties must submit the agreement to the court for its approval at the earliest possible time. The statutes specify that an agreement is deemed approved if the General Assembly does not vote on it within 30 days (CGS 3-125a).

EXPENSES

Table 3 shows the agreement's estimates of annual costs for its implementation.

Table 3: Annual costs to implement the stipulation and order

 

2003-04

2004-05

2005-06

2006-07

Interdistrict magnet schools

$3,180,000

6,360,000

9,540,000

12,720,000

Open Choice

$ 820,000

1,640,000

2,480,000

3,360,000

Open Choice transportation supplement

$ 250,000

500,000

750,000

1,000,000

Supplemental interdistrict cooperative programs for Hartford

$ 250,000

500,000

750,000

1,000,000

Plaintiffs' expert fees

$ 6,000

6,000

6,000

12,000

TOTAL

4,506,000

9,006,000

13,536,000

18,092,000

JG:ts