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Keep Magnet Schools Attractive

March 20, 2006
Editorial By Courant

Greater Hartford's inter-district magnet schools are models for school choice. They are helping close the achievement gap and achieve racial balance in the classroom. Children from both urban and suburban backgrounds are lined up in droves to claim a limited number of slots.

The state has an obligation to make good on promised opportunities for children. It also has a responsibility to protect taxpayer investment in about a dozen regional learning centers built in response to the Sheff vs. O'Neill court order to integrate classrooms.

Yet the regional magnet system is threatened by inconsistent funding.

At least two participating towns, Windsor and Ellington, say they cannot afford to give as many students as promised the choice of attending a regional magnet next year.

In an effort to keep their budgets in check, Windsor is reducing from 30 to 20 the number of students it will send to the Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield. Educators fear that budget pressure will prompt other suburban districts to pull back on their commitment to magnets.

It makes no sense to starve an idea that is flourishing or to leave the survival of excellent magnet schools to chance. The General Assembly must come up with a better funding system to prevent that from happening.

The per-pupil cost of sending a child to a magnet school next year will be $11,000. Of that, the state would pay about $6,500 and the towns about $2,500. There also are costs for transportation.

The numbers don't add up. Each year, according to Bruce Douglas of the Connecticut Regional Education Council, which runs the magnets, his organization must ask the legislature to fund the gap. That proposed supplement for next year totals $7.5 million.

If Connecticut is serious about offering school choice and achieving racial balance, it must figure out a more reliable and realistic funding formula that eliminates the need for supplemental appropriations.

A legislative task force is studying the present system, which is clearly out of date. For example, it does not account for cost-of-living increases.

Besides a fair funding formula, experts are right that there needs to be a broader, statewide plan for magnet schools, including where best to put them so all regions can offer choices to children.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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