christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Elizabeth Horton Sheff (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT – Thirty years after the court decision that required the state to work with Hartford to desegregate the city’s schools, the parties are finally getting closer to a resolution.

The interim agreement inked Friday by Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger expands the number of magnet seats available over the next three years to both Hartford students and to students from the surrounding suburbs.

An additional 1,000 seats will be made available – 600 for Hartford students and 400 for students from suburban towns – at a variety of Hartford-area magnet schools.

In 2007, the number of minority Hartford students attending integrated schools was about 11%. That figure quadrupled between 2007 and 2012, but has since stagnated and hovered between 43.9% and 49% over the last six years.

“In the struggle for justice we are accustomed to the fact that steps forward are accompanied by a push back,” Elizabeth Horton Sheff, mother of lead plaintiff Milo Sheff, said outside Superior Court Friday. “Today, in this courtroom, we took a step forward.”

As of Friday there were 10,354 applications and three weeks left to enter the lottery for the Regional School Choice Program, which gives students in the Greater Hartford area an opportunity to attend a magnet school.

The Sheff lawsuit helped create the Regional School Choice Program, but there are far more students who want access to a quality education offered by various magnet schools than the program has available.

Friday’s settlement opens up 62 seats at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering in Windsor and 150 new seats at Riverside Magnet School in East Hartford over a three-year period.

Interdistrict Magnet Schools – such as the Greater Hartford Arts Academy in Hartford and the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy in East Hartford – will be able to fill more seats as well, potentially providing space for an additional 350 Hartford students. The Hartford pre-school magnet program also will increase by one 20-student classroom each year.

The settlement further requires Hartford Host Magnet Schools and Regional Education Service Center Magnet Schools to enroll at least 50% Hartford residents among incoming students in each school year, providing an estimated 120 additional places for Hartford resident students.

The state Education Department also will provide up to $300,000 for Open Choice districts that offer at least 20% more seats than they did the prior year. Those are the suburban schools that accept Hartford students.

Friday’s settlement also will provide funding for Hartford’s neighborhood schools.

The approximately $2 million settlement signed by the parties and the court Friday reallocates money already budgeted by the General Assembly, and does not require legislative approval. However, a final settlement is expected to be negotiated in 2022, and will require legislative approval if it is in excess of $3 million.

Gov. Ned Lamont thanked Horton Sheff for bringing the lawsuit.

“You guys gave us a kick in the back of our pants there and we needed it 30 years ago. We had to wake up,” Lamont said.

He said they’re doing much better than before, “but we have a long way to go.”

Outside the courthouse, Attorney General William Tong offered praise for Friday’s settlement agreement.

“It’s a big investment in kids and it’s a sustained long-term investment in kids,” Tong said.

But Friday’s agreement only addresses segregation in the Hartford school system, while segregation continues to exist in other school systems in Connecticut.

“I think the rest of the state – we’re inspired by this case,” Lamont said. “What we’re seeing as successful here in Hartford, we’re going to take around the rest of the state.”