Connecticut has 205 school districts, including 149 town-based districts, 17 regional school districts, 6 regional education service centers, 3 chartered high schools, and 23 public charter schools, as well as school districts run by state agencies and a Technical High School System. Of the 166 town-based and regional school districts, 21 of the largest and all of the urban school districts have a majority of Black and Hispanic students. The 21 districts include the cities of Bridgeport, Danbury, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Stamford, and Waterbury as well as the smaller towns of Ansonia, Bloomfield, Derby, East Hartford, Hamden, Manchester, Meriden, Stratford, West Haven, Windham, and Windsor. While these 21 school districts (referred to as Majority-Minority (MM) districts educate 35.5% of all the students in Connecticut, they educate 61.4% of all Black and brown students. Simply stated, Connecticut has a highly segregated public education system.
This report looks at how these 21 MM districts compare with the 145 other districts in financing, discipline, poverty, English Language Learners, educational performance and absenteeism. In all categories, the differences are sharp.
The average per pupil expenditure in the state for the 2017-18 school year was $18,125. For the 21 MM districts, the average was $16,590. For the other 145 districts, the average was $18,339, or about 11% higher. This is true despite the fact that the lion's share of state funding goes to these 21 districts, based on how the educational cost sharing grants are calculated, federal Title I funding, and supplemental funding such as Connecticut's Alliance district program.
The reason for this profound difference is that more affluent districts fund their schools primarily through local property taxes. Local property taxes are based on a grand list of taxable property. The average grand list per enrolled student in these 21 MM districts is $517,150, while the average grand list per student in the remaining 145 districts is $881,861, or 71% higher. The range on a district level is even more extreme. The grand list per student in Hartford is $198,108, while the grand list per student in Greenwich is $3,725,521, or 19 times as much.
It needs to be pointed out that equity does not mean equal funding. The 21 MM districts have higher percentages of high need students, defined as students with special needs, English language learners and students in poverty. Moreover, as Professor Bo Zhao reported in his paper, Estimating the Cost Function of Connecticut Public K-12 Education: Implications for Inequity and Inadequacy in School Spending", prepared for the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, to achieve equality of outcome, spending would have to be substantially higher in high needs districts than in primarily white suburban districts.
One added cost figure is English language learners. The 21 MM districts average 15.5% of their student enrollment are English language learners, while the comparable figure for the 145 remaining districts is 3.27%. It obviously costs more to run a bilingual educational program. Another added cost factor is students in poverty. The best proxy for poverty is students on free or reduced-price lunch. The 21 MM districts have 67.13% of their students on free or reduced lunch. For the other 145 districts, the figure is 28.33% on free or reduced lunch. As for special education status, the 21 MM districts have 17.17% of their students designated as eligible for special education, while the 145 other districts have 14.33% of their students designated as eligible for special education services. Providing special education services is a major additional cost.
As for educational outcomes, the State collects data based on standardized testing, mostly the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Testing is conducted in the three areas of English Literacy, Math, and Science. For purposes of this analysis, we look at Literacy and Math. In the 21 MM districts, the average literacy test score is 59.59. In the remaining 145 districts, the average is 72.22, or 21% higher. For math, the average score in the majority-minority districts is 54.07, while it is 68.08 in the remaining districts, which is 26% higher. The gap between the performance of high need students and non-high need students in literacy is 14.60 points for the 21 MM districts, but 9.29 points for the remaining 145 districts. The gap in math is 14.95 points for the MM districts and 12.45 points for the remaining districts. Even the year-to-year growth is different. For literacy, the growth for non-high needs students is .59 for the 21 MM districts and .67 for the remaining 145 districts. For math, the difference is .62 versus .73.
The differences are also dramatic for discipline. For in-school suspension, we divided the number of incidents by the number of students. For the 21 MM districts, the rate of in-school suspension was 12.96%. For the remaining 145 districts, the rate was 7.02%. For exclusionary discipline, that is out-of-school suspension and expulsion, the rate for the 21 MM districts was 11.66%, while it was 3.35% for the remaining 145 districts.
Finally, chronic absenteeism was double in the 21 targeted districts. In the 21 MM districts, 15% of students were chronically absent, while the number was 8% for the other 145 districts.
Students in Connecticut's cities and in other majority-minority school districts are getting a far poorer education and are achieving much poorer education outcomes due primarily to the gross underfunding of education in those districts. Two factors create this result: segregated housing patterns and local property tax-based funding of schools. These factors need to be attacked: housing patterns by enforcing state and federal law on affordable housing and ending exclusionary zoning and local funding of schools by having the state collect property taxes and fund schools throughout the state on an equitable basis. Moving to a system of regional school districts could also reduce the level of discrimination. Fairfield County, for example, contains some of the best-funded, highest-performing school districts in close proximity to some of the poorest-funding, worst-performing districts. Were the districts combined into a regional school district, proper administration could lead to an equalization of funding and results.
These yawning discrepancies are no surprise to anyone who has studied education in Connecticut. Notwithstanding the knowledge of these gaps, there has been no significant closing of them over the past two decades. The reason is because none of the possible remedies is easy or pain-free. Money is the immediate answer, but the long-term solution is a truly integrated society.