Editorial: Integration magnet schools, yet another desegregation failure

 Attorneys who practice in Connecticut claim that they enjoy practicing here for its location, despite the struggling economy. (K1wy/Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Attorneys who practice in Connecticut claim that they enjoy practicing here for its location, despite the struggling economy. (K1wy/Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

For all the talking down that New Englanders like to give the South for racial tensions, acting like things are perfect up here would be a huge misnomer. Segregation has always been a huge issue for states like Connecticut, and yet it seems like none of the proposed solutions to fix the problem ever work. Recently, the state has taken steps to try desegregating urban Hartford schools. Previously, minority students made up the vast majority of the city’s underfunded public schools, while nearby white suburbs benefited from a much better school system. In response to a decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court 22 years ago, the state has spurred on magnet schools to integrate urban and suburban students. However, many are skeptical about the intentions behind these institutions.

Basically, Connecticut has spent billions over the years getting these integrated magnet schools up and running. These schools do admittedly perform better than the nearby public schools by considerable margins. Students are admitted to them via a two-tiered lottery system, where both Hartford and nearby suburban families can apply to have their child go to. Further, these magnet schools have higher acceptance to Hartford students (49 percent acceptance rate) than to other applicants (36 percent).

While the idea of a lottery system to escape failing public schools is a bit sketchy morally, these results are good. Where the questions come in are what measures are taken to ensure the integration goal of the magnet schools. Connecticut deems schools that are more than 75 percent minority population to be segregated. To avoid this, the lotteries give preference to more white and Asian suburbs (compared to other suburbs). What’s worse, in cases where not enough white students apply, these magnet schools just run with less students. They would rather leave desks empty than accept more black or Hispanic students, because they cannot cross the 75 percent threshold. So, these “losing” students are sent to their severely underfunded public schools

To any reasonable person, this is ridiculous. Perhaps the original intentions of integration are just, but blindly enforcing rules by this shows how boneheaded Connecticut is. “Losing” Hartford students are sent to severely underfunded public schools while the state spends over $300 million per year on schools that run well under capacity. Somehow, in trying to help black and Hispanic students succeed in a rigged system, the state has only rigged it against them more.

Measures like these raise many questions as to what the state is actually getting at. Does Connecticut believe that schools can only succeed when there’s a certain percentage of white students? Does Connecticut think that building entirely new schools is a better use of funds than fixing up preexisting ones? Whatever it is, it is sure that the state will be back to the drawing board soon. Maybe this time they can actually make some progress on the deepening social and racial divides that our state faces.