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Education Officials Support Open Choice Program
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Connecticut education officials say the Open Choice program is the best way to meet school desegregation goals in the long-running Sheff vs. O’Neill case.  WNPR’s Diane Orson reports.

Open Choice offers minority students in Hartford the opportunity to attend suburban public schools.  But demand continues to exceed available space. Close to 2,500 Hartford youngsters applied to enter Open Choice next fall. Only about 500 students will be accepted.  Dennis Parker is director of the Racial Justice Program for the National American Civil Liberties Union and a lawyer for the Sheff plaintiffs.

"I know that given the current demographics, that its not a concern about overcrowding because the number of school districts are actually experiencing losses. And so there really should be seats that are available."

Suburban districts say they can’t afford the cost of educating urban kids. A bill before the state appropriations committee would offer financial incentives to suburban districts if they agree to accept more Hartford students.  Sheff supporters are also worried that the state may stop building new magnet schools. Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy says the state supports magnets, but opening new ones is expensive.

"We know that for example a $100 million construction project could finance our Open Choice program at 10 times the level for 10 years if we were to redirect some of those resources."

This is the third year of a 5 year settlement agreement . It was created in response to the Connecticut Supreme court order to reduce the racial and ethnic isolation of Hartford’s school children.

For WNPR, I’m Diane Orson.