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Unfair to go outside the rules to obtain school choice

Students in Connecticut have significantly more school choice than they did a generation ago. Charter schools, magnet schools and regional vocational schools offer many students and parents choices, but not all.

Counterintuitively, smaller communities without high schools often provide bigger choices, giving students the chance to pick among multiple nearby high schools. In urban centers, the demand to get into charter schools outstrips the supply of openings, leading to lottery systems to dole out the available slots.

State subsidies and cost-sharing rules underwrite these school choices. These arrangements are not perfect, some arguably unfair, but there is a system.

And so, while we advocate for continued expansion of school choice, parents cannot simply choose the school they want. In Connecticut, property taxes pay for the bulk of local education, with these taxes paid directly by property owners or indirectly by the renters of those properties. If you live in one town but maneuver to enroll your child in the public schools of another, you’re ripping off your municipal neighbors.

When Norwich recently decided to crackdown on violators of the residency rule, it proved how pervasive this practice can be. The school board authorized the hiring of a retired Norwich police detective to check on residency when there were signs a student might not live in the city. Starting last November and running through August, Residency Officer Ed Peckham found enough violators to save the city $1.67 million in expenditures.

There were two major motivations for creating false residencies: enrolling students in a Norwich special education program that parents saw as superior to those in their own towns; and parents wanting to get their teens into Norwich Free Academy, the large regional high school with a college-like campus setting.

Other students, the investigator found, simply wanted to continue in school with their friends after the family moved from Norwich.

Three elementary level special education students from other communities were costing Norwich more than $100,000 each to educate.

The struggles of parents with children who have special education needs are significant and their efforts to find the best place for their children to thrive are understandable, but that doesn’t make them right.

The state must do a better job of assuring quality special education for all students, including higher state subsidies, so that parents don’t feel the pressure to move around to find a good program or, worse, ignore residency rules.

 

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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