Connecticut Supreme Court building in Hartford
Connecticut Supreme Court building in Hartford.
Alan Calandro

The courts, governors, legislature, and city have been incapable of finding any real solution to the education problem in Hartford.

A formal verdict on the problem started with the courts in 1996, when the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling in a narrow 4-3 decision that held that the significantly lower performance of children in Hartford schools was unconstitutional even if the state took no action to create it. The court blamed the problem on segregation even though it willfully misinterpreted what segregation means. Segregation implies purposeful intention/action, which did not occur in Hartford although the concentration of people living together geographically did. Merriam-Webster, even with today’s politically correct changing of the meaning of words, defines segregate as: 1) “to separate or set apart from others or from the general mass” or 2) “to cause or force the separation of (as from the rest of society).” Ergo since the state did not force anyone to live anywhere, concentration not segregation existed.

Like the judicial activism utilized in Roe vs. Wade, there is nothing in the Connecticut Constitution that contains a prohibition on people gathering together to live in the same place or that requires all children have equal educational outcomes (barring mass human cloning). Nonetheless, the court justified its conclusion primarily based on two sections of the constitution. Judge for yourself: 1) Article 8, Sec. 1: “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The general assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation;” and 2) Article 1, Sec. 20: “No person shall be denied the equal protection of the law nor be subjected to segregation or discrimination in the exercise or enjoyment of his civil or political rights because of religion, race, color, ancestry or national origin.”

The first section has no relevance at all but the court used it as justification to improperly make policy since the section, it said, did not “deprive” them of the right to judge whether it was fulfilled. Clearly not even close to being logically sound since there is no dispute about education being publicly funded (not free). The second section at least contains the word “segregation” but it refers to civil or political rights not education. Although civil rights have increasingly been broadened to include many “rights” such as education (which I agree with), the official definition of civil rights has not yet been officially altered. Again, Merriam-Webster defines civil rights as “the nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especiallythe rights of personal liberty guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and by acts of Congress.” These amendments have to do with outlawing slavery (the 13th) and equal protection of the laws (the 14th). If students in Hartford were performing better than the CT statewide average, no one would be referring to the concentration of minorities in Hartford as segregation.

Nothing that has occurred or is occurring in Hartford regarding education is covered by what is contained in the above constitutional sections unless one is intent on creating it. It is clearly a policy problem that is the domain of the legislature and governor regardless of how well they do their jobs. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ellen Ash Peters authored the 1996 overreach ruling likely in order to create an additional legacy for herself. In addition to being the first female state supreme court justice appointed by a female governor, she was appointed directly from the faculty at Yale Law School without having any experience as a judge. Yay! Non-meritocratic appointments help to create a culture where one is not bound by silly definitions or rules. But patronage was specifically built into our system so at least it’s within the rules. Nonetheless, this is not to object to the court’s conclusion that there was a problem with Hartford education, only to the court taking over the policy-making duties prescribed by the Constitution for the legislature. Although many applaud these activist decisions, they are perhaps the worst type of public corruption since it goes to the very heart of how our system is meant to work.

Unlike Roe v. Wade, however, the court did not have any easy answers, or any answers at all, other than requiring the state to solve the city’s problem. Who couldn’t solve a problem by mandating that someone else do it? It’s good to be a judge. Since then, the courts have overseen the ruling in fits and bursts and now Governor Lamont and Attorney General William Tong have reached a final conclusion with the court that they presented to the legislature. The court enjoys its foray into usurpation of policy-making so much that it set a deadline of March 17, 2022, for approval by the legislature. Unlike every bill that must be voted on by the legislature to become law, this settlement was deemed approved even though the legislature never voted on it, having intentionally let the March 17 deadline pass with no action.

Prior to March 17, some Democrat legislators justifiably complained about the absence of consultation with them before a group of lawyers reached a settlement on their own. After March 17 passed, these legislators were angry at the lack of a vote, having passed it out of the Education Committee in expectation of a full legislative debate. Democrat lawmakers lamented that the settlement “doesn’t provide relief for anybody” and “we didn’t take care of a darn thing.” But it matters not because 1) it is now essentially irreversible and 2) no one has any easy answers to the problems plaguing Hartford schools to substitute for it.

Although the court was wrong to insert itself into policy-making, the court case did serve to highlight and force action on the severe problem in Hartford schools. Unfortunately, the contents of the new settlement are more of the same solutions presented by the state since the 1996 ruling which ironically has been to create Hartford neighborhood school alternatives or choice, something anti-union Republicans have been proposing for years. Except not a Republican-type school choice policy where vouchers would be available to buy a school slot in “the marketplace.” Leaving the undue influence of teacher union leaders aside (who rarely meaningfully consult the silent majority of teachers who are actually focused on teaching) and are dead set against school choice, there is nothing inherently wrong with school choice in theory. The problem is that in practice it is unworkable without major student transportation changes and/or building a selection of schools in every neighborhood. Nice idea, just not feasible.

Instead, lawmakers created variations of the same theme: state-sponsored charter schools, magnet schools, interdistrict schools, slots in neighboring school districts, etc. This approach has arguably resulted in a net worsening of the problem. Motivated students and parents in Hartford are the most likely to pursue these programs leaving those less motivated and more at risk to be even more concentrated than they were before. That is why it is no surprise to see a recent report of 2015-2019 school year data that shows only 8.7% – 16.5% of students in Hartford neighborhood schools achieved a level of proficiency in Math and English Language Arts. Meanwhile, kids that go to schools outside Hartford (“Open Choice”) or charter schools were 17.9% – 50.3% proficient, all of which lag the almost as disheartening Connecticut statewide average where 44% – 55.7% are proficient. Not advanced – just proficient.

None of these numbers are anything to be proud of. Yet the new settlement doubles down on what has been done over the last 20 years that produced the above statistics. Its main claim of success is that instead of the lottery system now in place for students to be able to attend non-neighborhood schools, 100% of students that want to attend these schools will be able to do so by … wait for it: 2028-2029. So even this woeful “more of the same” will not be complete until seven years from now. It again sidesteps the real education problem in Hartford schools. It does not provide any answers to those who will miss the 2029 completion of the settlement’s goal, nor those left behind completely. And, ultimately the settlement worsens their neighborhood school education experience by creating a uniform tier of lower-level students without addressing all the attendant problems that make them so.

And this goes against modern education theory, mostly engineered by Democrats, about inclusiveness in the classroom where students of different levels, including those with special needs, sit and learn together and from each other. On the one hand, this new “settlement” seems pathetic after all this time, on the other hand, the number of students that can go to “better” schools will be increased – so it is, as in the past, not all bad. Unfortunately, it continues to contain nothing for those left behind and does nothing to alleviate the concentration of minorities in low-performing schools which was the point of the plaintiffs and the 1996 ruling.

And to be fair to Democrats, a real solution, which would be hard, is not obvious to them especially when the problem is arguably their unintentional doing. The idea that Black children are not capable of achieving a high level of performance unless white students are present should be considered insulting and racist. But that is what liberal social scientists, who dominate education, have pushed since the 1960s while banishing important data deemed uncomfortable such as that published in 1965 by the Johnson Administration’s prescient Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Concentration is not the problem. Education of the same ethnic/racial groups of students happens all over the world. Study after study shows that a strong family unit including two-parent families where parents are motivated and healthy enough to be invested in their child’s education is the main predictor of student success. The range of public policy changes that would be needed to effect this would take time to bear fruit (although even the current minimalist settlement doesn’t take full effect until 2029) but would be heretical to liberals’ traditional approach toward social policy such as marriage, divorce, fathers, nuclear families, patriarchy, etc: e.g. that they should be lessened not strengthened. But when you have been in charge for 50+ years and things are either getting worse or not getting better, it’s only fair to ask yourself: are these traditional public policy approaches working?

Alan Calandro

Alan Calandro is a life-long unaffiliated voter and former director of the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.