With two-thirds of Connecticut's black and Hispanic children attending segregated schools – one of the highest rates in the country – U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy hopes Congress will step up to offer funds to entice school districts to diversify.
"If you look at a state like mine, you see unconscionable levels of racial and economic segregation," Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters Tuesday during a conference call with U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr. Murphy unveiled a bill that would allow school districts and states to apply for a $120 million pool of grant money to study and implement ways to diversify.
Murphy points out that 19 percent of the schools in Connecticut where nearly every student comes from a low-income family are located in Hartford, while the capital city houses just 4 percent of public schools.
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"How do we allow that to continue to happen?" asked Murphy, a member of the Senate's Health, Education and Labor Committee
It's been 20 years since the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered the state to eliminate the inequities being caused by Hartford's segregated schools in the landmark Sheff vs. O'Neill case. And it's been 62 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that intentionally segregating schools is unconstitutional.
Since then, minority isolation in most city schools in Connecticut has intensified. In Bridgeport, for example, the percentage of minority students in public schools has risen progressively from 51 percent in 1968 to 91 percent in 2013. In New Haven, it's gone from 43 percent to 85 percent.
For Hartford children, 52 percent now attend integrated schools, meaning no more than 75 percent of their classmates are black or Hispanic. But it's unclear whether the state will work to desegregate the remaining segregated schools that nearly 10,000 black and Hispanic students attend each year.
The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said the state will not build any more magnet schools, the chief tool the state has used to desegregate Hartford area schools. The state education department also has fallen short of its promises year after year to persuade suburban school districts to enroll many more minority students.
The lack of diversity in public schools is not unique to Connecticut. The Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, in May found that segregation is increasing in public schools across the U.S.
However, Connecticut comes in 13th and 14th place for the segregation of its black and Hispanic students in public schools, reports UCLA's Civil Rights Project.
Murphy's proposal is backed by the Obama Administration and the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation's largest teachers unions. A companion bill will be introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio.
Participation would be voluntary.
President Obama proposed a similar grant program as part of his federal budget, but the proposal has failed to make it through the Senate budget process.
"I've seen the benefits of schools voluntarily choosing diversity," said King, a minority who attended a diverse school in New York City and sends his daughters to a diverse magnet school in Maryland. "Schools were my refuge and teachers were my saviors…. They exposed me to not only a well-rounded education but to people with backgrounds and cultures very different from my own."
Murphy said it's past time to fix this problem, sharing a story about his visit to a local high school in Hartford just before the summer break.
"“I sat with some of the student leaders who were completely and totally conscious of the nature of their education. They knew that they were being robbed of an experience that other students in Connecticut benefited from," he said. "They felt that it was totally intentional, and there is no way to read the increasing isolation of high-poverty students and minority students other than it's the result of intentional decisions made by policymakers."