Bernie’s Billion-Dollar Education Plan: Expand Magnet Funding to Integrate Racially Isolated Schools

The 74
March 10, 2020

4,300 magnet schools educate about 3.5 million students nationally, making them a leading form of public school choice and a primary lever to promote integration. They have been viewed as more politically palatable than court-enforced mandates like busing.

Kahlenberg is a leading proponent of magnet schools and has called on lawmakers to double federal spending on them to roughly $210 million.

“Sanders would take that even further,” he said. “I think it’s a healthy development.”

In Hartford, a model

Though magnet schools exist in most states, advocates often point to the program in Hartford, Connecticut, one of America’s poorest cities, as a success story. The Hartford region built a network of 41 high-performing magnet schools to promote integration after the state Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that racial segregation between Hartford schools and those in the more affluent suburbs violated the state constitution. The remedy includes the magnet schools and a program that allows Hartford children to attend suburban schools. Hartford’s magnet schools stand out from those in other cities because they draw students from multiple school systems, promoting integration across district borders.

Today, about half of Hartford students attend integrated schools, said Martha Stone, founder and executive director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy and an attorney who represented parents in the state desegregation suit. In January, plaintiffs and the state reached a settlement that expands the program and reforms how enrollment spots are awarded to students. Most significantly, Stone said, state officials agreed to devise a plan by 2022 to provide integrated schools to all students who want to attend them. In years past, demand has far exceeded supply.

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