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EDUCATION - DESEGREGATION

OLR Research Report


June 4, 2010

 

2010-R-0249

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY OF THE RACIAL IMBALANCE LAW

By: Judith Lohman, Assistant Director

You asked for a legislative history of the state's racial imbalance law affecting school districts (CGS 10-226a to 10-226e).

SUMMARY

The racial imbalance law has four main parts:

1. required annual school district data reports to the State Board of Education (SBE) on the numbers of minority teachers and students and the number of low-income students in each school;

2. a requirement that the SBE notify a district when it finds that any of its schools has a minority enrollment that is “substantially” above or below the level of that of the district overall;

3. requirements that (a) the district submit a plan to correct the imbalance, (b) the plan contain certain elements, (c) that SBE review and approve the district plan, and (d) the district report annually on the plan's implementation; and

4. SBE authority to adopt regulations to implement the law along with certain requirements for what the regulations must include.

SBE regulations to implement the law establish a standard for determining racial imbalance at a school. Under those regulations, a school is considered imbalanced if its minority enrollment is more than 25 percentage points above or below that of the district as a whole.

The law was enacted in 1969 after a two-year study by a special legislative commission and a contentious legislative debate. The debate and controversy continued after the law's passage in the General Assembly's struggle to approve the regulations to implement the law, including a definition of what constitutes a “substantial” racial imbalance. After rejecting two sets of draft regulations, the General Assembly's Regulation Review Committee approved the implementing regulations in 1980. Because no regulations were approved until 1980, the SBE did not start enforcing the law until that time.

Enforcement was suspended again for three years in the mid 1990s. The SBE conducted a legislatively mandated review of the law and issued recommendations for changes on February 1, 1998. The legislature enacted extensive revisions in the 1998 session. The SBE revised its regulations to reflect the 1998 changes on November 29, 1999. The 1998 law and its implementing regulations remain in effect, with only one statutory change since 1998.

PASSAGE OF THE RACIAL IMBALANCE LAW

Provisions of the 1969 Law

The racial imbalance law was first passed in 1969 as PA 773. In its original form, it:

1. required each local board of education to report on the total number of students of racial minorities in its schools;

2. defined racial minorities as Negro, Mongolian, Malay, Puerto Rican, Mexican American, American Indian, and those whose “color, appearance, features, physical characteristics or any combination thereof are distinguishable from persons whose ancestry is totally Caucasian”;

3. required SBE to notify any local board of education in writing of a racial imbalance in any of its schools and defined racial imbalance as a proportion of minority students in all grades of a school that is “substantially” above or below that of the district's schools as a whole;

4. required a local board receiving notice to file a plan to correct the situation with SBE that included proposed changes in attendance districts, location of proposed new schools, proposed additions to schools and any other means to correct the imbalance, and a projection of expected racial composition in the district;

5. allowed plans to also include cooperation with other districts to remedy the imbalance;

6. required SBE to review the plan and, if satisfactory, approve it and assist the local board to implement it and the local board to submit quarterly reports on the plan implementation to SBE upon request; and

7. gave SBE authority to adopt regulations to implement the law, including standards for determining racial imbalance.

Genesis of the Law

The 1967 General Assembly created a legislative commission on human rights and opportunities and charged it to look at the problem of racial segregation in Connecticut schools. The commission was made up of 10 senators and 20 representatives of both political parties and was chaired by Senator Joseph Fauliso of Hartford. The commission was required to report its findings and recommendations at the beginning of the 1969 General Assembly session. (At that time, the General Assembly met only every other year, so the 1969 session was the one following the 1967 session.)

The commission developed recommendations and when the 1969 session began, the General Assembly created a new Joint Committee on Human Rights and Opportunities for the specific purpose of turning the recommendations into legislation. Many of the same legislators who served on the commission were appointed to the committee. The committee raised SB 415 as the legislative expression of the commission's recommendations.

The legislative history of the racial imbalance law is somewhat confusing because the bill that became law (SB 1588) is not the same bill that the legislature's Committee on Human Rights and Opportunities held hearings on and reported out (SB 415). SB 415 proposed to eliminate racial imbalance through a state-funded system of “educational parks” linked to universities. SB 1588 required school boards to file a plan with SBE to correct racial imbalance and periodically report on its implementation.

The background of the legislative committee's bill was summarized by Senator Fauliso, the committee's cochairman at its February 7, 1969 public hearing on SB 415 (Joint Standing Committee on Human Rights and Opportunities, 1969 Hearing Transcripts, pp. 62-5).

Public Hearing

SB 415 generated considerable opposition at its February 7, 1969 public hearing. Among the most adamant opponents was Education Commissioner Sanders, who attacked the bill as (1) undermining SBE's authority, (2) cumbersome and unworkable, (3) excessively expensive, and (4) an unwarranted encroachment by state authority on local school districts. His views were echoed by many witnesses, but many other witnesses and committee members supported the bill, arguing that it was being misrepresented by opponents.

Senate Action

The Human Rights and Opportunities Committee reported SB 415 out unanimously. But, when the subject of racial imbalance was taken up in the Senate on May 29, 1969, it was SB 1588, “An Act Concerning Racial Imbalance in the Public Schools,” that was called. SB 1588 had been emergency certified the previous week. The first version of SB 1588 contained all the provisions of the racial imbalance law that eventually became law, except SBE's authority to adopt implementing regulations. SB 415 was not debated by the full House or Senate.

There was virtually no Senate debate on SB 1588. The bill was introduced and explained by Senator Fauliso who represented it as the product of the legislative commission established in 1967. Fauliso said that SB 1588 gave SBE definite authority and responsibility to achieve racial balance in schools and that, once the bill was passed, the board could equivocate no longer. Senator Barlow stated that he “hope[d] that the Commissioner of Education, Mr. Sanders, [would] honor this obligation.” Senator Schaffer characterized the bill as an “intelligent and moderate approach toward a very burning issue.” The lack of penalties in the bill meant, she said, that the state and local boards could proceed in a “spirit of cooperation.” The bill passed on a voice vote (Senate Proceedings, May 19, 1969, pp. 2861-4).

House Action

There was a good deal of House debate on SB 1588 and the three amendments to it proposed by Representative Otha Brown of Norwalk (House Proceedings, June 3, 1969, pp. 5719-41).

Representative Brown's first amendment (House “A”) sought to add some of the provisions of SB 415, particularly the deadlines, to SB 1588. Brown characterized SB 1588 as “a nothing bill.” He said the bill “does nothing which cannot be done now, if the commissioner of education had the personal commitment and intestinal fortitude” to do it. He predicted that it would be “a cold day in July” before the commissioner ever notified a local board that one of its schools was racially unbalanced. “The commissioner has apparently indicated that he believes hearts, minds, and souls must be changed so as to be willing to do right and justice,” Brown said. “I can only say that the law might not make one happy but it can certainly make sure of equality of opportunity in education.”

In arguing against House “A,” Representative Povinelli of New Milford maintained that it would allow the state to force school districts to combine to create racial balance. “This is a bill,” he said, referring to House “A,” “that strikes at the rights of all of the people of the State of Connecticut and all of their children.” He continued, “If we are to integrate for the mere sake of integration in our schools then we lose all concept of bettering the education of all our children for we become caught up in a socialistic form that defies imagination.” House “A” failed on a voice vote.

Representative Brown next proposed House “B,” which would have required that the plans submitted by local school boards contain interim strategies for eliminating racial imbalance while longer range solutions were pending. It also required that all interim or final plans for ending imbalance be implemented not later than the opening of school in September 1970. Representative Brown argued that this deadline had been approved unanimously by the legislative commission and had been part of SB 415.

Representative McKinney spoke against the House “B” because it did not take town boundaries into consideration. Representative O'Neill urged a vote in favor of House “B.” “This is an enlightened state,” he said, “we pride ourselves on being Christians, enlightened and not like those people in other places. We can prove it tonight, we can prove we really mean it. We can prove that it is not mere words and not mere hypocrisy and we say yes, we want to help the cities, we don't believe in segregation . . .” House amendment “B” failed by a vote of 85 to 68.

Representative Brown's final amendment authorized SBE to adopt regulations to set standards for what constitutes racial imbalance. That amendment was adopted by a vote of 81 to 65. The bill as amended was then adopted on a voice vote. The Senate later passed the bill in concurrence.

LEGISLATIVE ACTION AFTER 1969

Although the racial imbalance law has been amended several times in the 41 years since its enactment, the only extensive changes occurred in 1998. The law remained controversial for many years after passage as evidenced by the difficulty of approving its implementing regulations.

1969

The Legislative Regulations Review Committee rejected the first set of proposed regulations.

1974

PA 74-149 eliminated as part of the “minority” definition, students whose “color, appearance, features, physical characteristics or any combination thereof are distinguishable from persons whose ancestry is totally Caucasian.”

1978

PA 78-218 made technical changes.

1979-80

The Regulation Review Committee rejected two versions of the SBE regulations to implement the law. Implementing regulations took effect April 1, 1980.

1986

PA 86-78 allowed SBE to change its racial imbalance regulations for school districts with minority enrollments of 70% or more, but did not specify any particular changes. (SBE did not make any changes in its regulations.)

1995

PA 95-259 suspended for two years, until July 1, 1997, the SBE's authority to take action concerning racial imbalance in any school district for which a remedial plan was not approved before January 1, 1995, unless a school board asked for action. It required SBE, in consultation with the Education Committee, to review the laws and regulations concerning racial imbalance and required the education commissioner to report the board's findings and any recommendations to the Education Committee by November 15, 1996. The review had to include alternative ways to measure the concentration of students with economic, social, and educational needs and ways of improving these students' education or make other corrections that may not require mandatory student reassignment.

1997

PA 97-247 extended the law's suspension from July 1, 1997 to July 1, 1998. But it allowed SBE to notify school boards that had a school with a minority enrollment of 25% or more above or below that of another district school with comparable grades. It extended the due date for the SBE's report from November 15, 1996, to February 1, 1998 on its review of the law.

1998

PA 98-252 revised the law extensively. It required school boards to report the number of minority teachers and the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches in all their schools in addition to reporting on students of racial minorities. In particular cases, whenever SBE determines, it also required reporting on how many such students and teachers there are in each school and each grade. It changed the definition of racial minorities to cover students whose racial ancestry is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as “other than white,” which had the effect of eliminating many students of Hispanic origin from the definition, since many such students classify themselves as white.

It allowed a local board to (1) limit its plan to address a racial imbalance to an affected school without extending it to the whole district or causing a district-wide pupil reassignment and (2) ask for an extension of the deadline for addressing the problem when the number of students causing the imbalance is fewer than five students at a school.

It eliminated a provision allowing SBE's racial imbalance regulations to include separate standards, approval criteria, and reporting schedules for districts with minority enrollments of 70% or more and, instead, required the regulations to include (1) SBE-approved voluntary enrollment plans as alternatives to mandatory student reassignment, (2) allowances for diverse schools in districts with minority enrollments of 50% or more, and (3) requirements for equitable resource allocations in districts cited under the law.

Finally, the act required the implementation reports on the racial imbalance plan to be filed with SBE annually instead of quarterly. Revised regulations to implement the 1998 law become effective on November 1, 1999.

2003

PA 03-174 extended the minority definition to those whose ethnicity the federal Office of Management and Budget defines as Hispanic or Latino for use by the United States Department of Commerce's Census Bureau.

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