This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: We set an ERN CT legislative agenda, unpacking the Sheff v. O’Neill settlement, and results of the Special Elections.
Helping to Shape the 2020 Session
Setting the legislative agenda for ourselves and for the state, Amy published a CTNewsJunkie OpEd last week, exploring data from a poll of Democratic primary voters, which demonstrates considerable consensus on several education issues that the legislature commonly deems to be controversial.
Additionally, the Connecticut Post published a story this week about recent legislative efforts to improve higher education—reflecting recommendations we made after the release of a 2019 report from our affiliate, Education Reform Now CT. That study—Less for More—used national data on completion rates and costs to analyze how well Connecticut’s four-year colleges serve their students, ultimately making the case for needed change in 2020 and beyond.
On Friday, Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger signed a settlement agreement in the 30-year old Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation case. Originally filed in 1989, the case resulted in a landmark 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court decision that established the right of Connecticut students to substantial equal educational opportunities—unimpaired by racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. Since that decision, the state has funded magnet schools and voluntary school choice options to foster more diverse school populations in the Sheff region; but progress has stagnated in recent years.
The new settlement agreement replaces race-based quotas for integration with socio-economic factors—using three tiers of socio-economic assignments for students. No more than 60% of a student body may be of low socio-economic status, and no less than 30% of a student body may be in the high socio-economic tier. It also creates a path to fully end the court’s jurisdiction of the case once there is sustainable implementation. This new agreement (“Phase IV Stipulation”) is in effect until June 2022, and calls for:
Adding over 1,000 new interdistrict magnet seats in existing schools, of which 600 of will be dedicated to Hartford students.
Financial incentives to expand the Open Choice program, and to support Open Choice students.
An easier and more accessible student lottery.
An Interdistrict Programs Advisory Committee that will convene three times a year to review progress and make recommendations.
A Comprehensive School Choice Plan (CCP) by the State Department of Education—due June 2021—to build a long-term, sustainable plan for Sheff integration.
A planning period for a “Phase V Stipulation,” which, once approved by the General Assembly, would fully end the court’s jurisdiction of the case and implement a long-term path forward.
Governor Lamont called the settlement a "wake up call," assuring Elizabeth Horton Sheff that desegregation efforts would be taken around the state.
Results of the Special Elections
In the first special elections of the year, both parties held their respective legislative seats. In Colchester, the vacated seat of Democrat Linda Orange was held by Brian Smith (D). The Fairfield election proved to be much closer than past contests, with Republican Brian Farnen winning by less than 100 votes, setting up a tough re-election in November—when turnout will undoubtedly be higher.
Next week will be the final special election of the year to fill the vacancy for former State Rep Fred Camillio (R- 151st District) who was elected as First Selectman of Greenwich this past November. Democrats have nominated Cheryl Moss, a Greenwich RTM member who was elected during a 2017 wave for Democrats running for local office in Greenwich. She is facing off against investment manager Harry Arora, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress against Jim Himes in 2018. The last two elections saw Camillo winning with margins of greater than ten points, so this will be an uphill challenge for the Democrats to flip.