Every year, thousands of school children in New Haven enter lotteries for admission into one of New Haven’s magnet schools. Every school day, the lucky ones stream into the special public schools.

Mayor John DeStefano said these children are evidence of the improvements made to education under his seven-year watch. He added that choice and competition increase the quality of education and provide integrated classrooms.

But state Sen. Martin Looney, who is challenging DeStefano in September’s Democratic mayoral primary, said he disagrees. He urged a return to a collection of strong neighborhood-oriented schools.

As the two enter the final months of campaigning, both expect education to be a major battlefield in their contest. Their disagreement over magnet schools is just a small example of a more fundamental difference about the overall state of New Haven’s schools.

DeStefano maintains things are going well. He said this week that a strong curriculum, a focus on early learning and school construction, along with school choice, have led to major improvements.

“Outcomes are clear,” DeStefano said. “On standardized tests, we have gone up every year, gone up at a faster pace than the school districts we trail.”

The mayor said he will continue to give students and parents more choices of curricula and management models if re-elected. In his February State of the City address, DeStefano unveiled a plan to convert more schools to magnet schools and to consider inviting a private company to manage a handful of public schools.

Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99, DeStefano’s campaign manager, said bussing children across the city to attend school is beneficial.

“It creates competition,” Gonzalez said. “It counteracts housing segregation patterns, and that allows children of all income levels to be in classrooms with a diverse set of people.”

But Looney said strong neighborhood schools would make it easier for parents to be involved with the schools and ensure that all students, not just those in magnet schools, get a quality education.

Looney campaign manager Jason Bartlett said the integration of magnet schools is unimportant, characterizing New Haven as an already diverse city with housing segregation patterns below state averages.

Bartlett said he thought city residents are aware of what he called the poor performance of public schools.

“My sense is that education probably will end up the number one issue in the campaign,” Bartlett said. “These test scores are just not acceptable, and I think everybody knows that.”

Looney went further, arguing that the public has lost confidence in its education system, accelerating New Haven’s downward population trend as families move into suburbs with higher performing schools.

But DeStefano said he has made a positive impact on education.

“This is a period of civility, stability and focus on children,” DeStefano said. “In 20 years in the Legislature, there is little he can point to in terms of any meaningful accomplishments compared to what I’ve been able to do over the last eight years.”