To the Editor:
I would like to add a little to your excellent coverage of Sheff v. O’Neill (“Court tackles Hartford school segregation” 4/10). A big part of the reason that the poor — and often, tragically, minorities — have become isolated in this state’s inner city schools is that Connecticut, unlike most other states in the country, has a law that draws school district boundaries along the same political lines as those that divide towns and cities.
In its 1996 opinion, the state Supreme Court identified this as the single biggest reason for the disparity in Connecticut’s public education, and actually ruled those divisions unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs in Sheff. The current divisions keep resources for public education at the local level from flowing to the places where they would do the most good and are most needed.
The short explanation for the status quo is that the suburbs rule the Legislature, and regard any tampering with their school district boundaries as an assault on the sanctity of one of their holy grails –the neighborhood school.
If the school districting statute is changed, more resources from suburban enclaves will flow to inner city schools. For the last 25 years, Connecticut has been raising generations of inner city kids that can’t compete. The state resists comparing inner city schools to suburban schools because, in their eyes, there are too many outside factors –such as poverty and crime — to consider.
The practical result of this thinking is that the state is willing to have students who can’t read, as long as they come from communities that aren’t expected to know how to.
This isn’t simply a funding issue, and it isn’t simply a school issue.
It is a question of a state’s unwillingness to dispense with tradition even where that tradition helps to trap whole generations of city kids under the weight of a vastly inferior, publicly provided education.
The solutions proposed, and to some extent implemented, will only work if they are undertaken on a massive scale — one far too expensive to fund adequately. A much simpler solution — the redrawing of district lines — is politically unpalatable to the legislators. This is likely to be part of what the plaintiffs ask the court for this time around, and if it isn’t, it should be.
Due to the predominance in the Legislature of suburban interests, such relief can only come from the court. They dropped the ball the first time around. Maybe this time, they’ll get the message.
James Gooch LAW ’02
April 10, 2002