New Haven’s public schools will receive a 5-year, $12.5 million federal grant to expand New Haven’s popular magnet school program, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro said late last week.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education is the largest federal grant New Haven’s magnet school program has ever received. It comes under the new Voluntary Public School Choice Program authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 on education reform.

New Haven has been allotted a total of $2 million through Sept. 30, 2003, and, over five years, a total of $12.5 million. It was the only Connecticut school district to receive funding and one of only nine school districts in the country to receive the grant. School districts in Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Oregon also received funding, according to a U.S. Department of Education press release.

A portion of the funds must be used to provide transportation services for students who live too far from their magnet school to walk every day. The remainder can be used to design the magnet school programs, cover tuition transfer payments, create activities that enable schools to accommodate more transfer requests, and for other related expenses.

In the award letter to the New Haven Public Schools, the U.S. Department of Education lauded New Haven Public Schools as a leader in offering magnet programs that attract students from the suburbs.

“Because New Haven’s mayor, school board and superintendent have made school choice an important option, New Haven has developed more magnet schools than any other Connecticut district,” the press release stated.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was pleased that the city’s effort to expand its magnet school program are starting to pay off.

“This generous grant will keep us on the incredible and successful magnet school program road we have been travelling for several years,” DeStefano said. “We are lucky to be able to expand the program to include more and more kids from the towns around the Elm City and increase the diversity of our student body.”

The already-popular magnet school program in New Haven is the largest in the state, with 17 “schools of choice” and a total enrollment of 7,000 students.

“The magnet school program is tremendously popular with students, parents and staff and it is a wonderful vehicle to create choice for kids within the public school district,” DeStefano said. “That choice creates ownership by students and parents for their school and also provides each school with the unique character and flavor and therefore strengthens the public school district.”

There are preliminary plans to open as many as seven new magnet schools within the next several years, New Haven Public Schools spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said. One new school will be a business-retail magnet school, specializing in careers in business and retail. There were plans for the school to open this fall, but the plans were put on hold because of trouble getting state dollars. The district plans to have this school in full operation by the start of the 2003-04 academic year. No specific location has been identified.

“This grant will help us continue to expand our schools of choice program,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Reginald Mayo said. “The funding will allow us to increase the numbers of schools with a magnet focus at all grade levels.”