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Open Choice Debate in Darien, State Models Student-Centered Funding, Falling Suspensions Kids

Open Choice Debate in Darien

On Monday, the CT Post covered a growing disagreement between various Darien stakeholders regarding the state's Open Choice program. Designed to reduce racial and economic gaps between neighboring districts, Open Choice provides a state-level incentive for districts that open their available seats to students across a region. Darien is considering enrolling just 16 Open Choice students (adding to a total enrollment of 4,765 in 2020) from Norwalk next fall. The plan is drawing support from advocates who favor increasing diversity. Opposition comes from those concerned about perceived potential costs to local taxpayers and some ugly mischaracterizations of the program.

They might need a 101 on how the program is funded and how accepting more students can offer additional aid and benefit to the town. To learn more about how Open Choice works, here’s a throw-back to a one-pager on the issue from our affiliate, ERN CT.

Office of Fiscal Analysis Models Student-Centered Funding System

Last legislative session, many in the state watched closely as SB 948, An Act Concerning Education Funding and Racial Equity, progressed through the legislature. The original big goals of the bill were to update the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula by: (1) adding new need-based weights for English Learners and students in poverty; (2) including all schools of choice under ECS; and (3) speeding up the phase-in of the state grant. Some of these goals were realized, while others remain important priorities for proponents of resource equity in Connecticut’s public schools. In addition, the legislature passed a requirement that the General Assembly's Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) conduct a study of the original proposal in SB 948. On Friday, that OFA analysis was released.

It finds that full implementation of this proposal would add $376M in expenses to the FY 23 budget, of which 72% would benefit towns that are currently underfunded by ECS. If fully implemented, the proposal would have an impact on ECS, state charter schools, magnet schools, Vocational Agriculture schools, and Open Choice. Also released this week are consensus budget projections that find Connecticut coffers with a $2.2B surplus this fiscal year, as reported in the CT Mirror. That extra revenue should cover the tab, and then some, for full funding for all schools.

Cautious Optimism Regarding Falling Suspensions for Young Kids

According to Monday's CT News Junkie, the number of suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade appears to have fallen between 2020-21 and the prior year. (We suppose it's the small mercies drawing optimism these days. After all, it's fairly obvious that suspending such young children from school is inexcusable in most cases.) Child Advocate Sarah Eagan noted that this downward trend is good news, although it remains possible that the reductions are related more to remote learning than to shifting practices. Last week, The CT Examiner had an opinion by a literacy coach in the Hartford Public School District, which argued that we should ban exclusionary disciplinary measures like suspension or expulsion. They disproportionately impact low-income students and students of color, and they feed the school-to-prison pipeline.

For more background on the need to reform school discipline in Connecticut, check out our work on the topic in the final quarter of 2021: Amy took on the issue of discriminatory school discipline policies in an opinion for the CT Post, and affiliate ERN CT co-hosted a virtual forum on the topic featuring US Senator Chris Murphy.

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