School Choice in the Greater Hartford Region
Families in the Greater Hartford Region are fortunate to have a choice about where their child attends school through high quality school choice options available to them on top of their home district schools. The Connecticut legislature formalized the state commitment to high quality education in diverse settings by adding these as priorities to the named educational interests of the state. More than 20,000 students from over 80 towns in Connecticut currently attend school together because of school choice. School choice is available to every family in the Greater Hartford Region!
In the Greater Hartford Region of Connecticut, school choice has become a cornerstone of the education system, providing families with the flexibility to select the educational environment that best aligns with their children's needs and preferences. The presence of school choice reflects a commitment to fostering diversity and innovation within the educational landscape, offering an array of public school options beyond a family’s neighborhood school. The RSCO school choice program allows families with students entering Pre-K3 through Grade 12 to apply to three distinct types of free, public schools in the Greater Hartford Region, including:
- 43 magnet schools with specialized themes, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); visual and performing arts; dual-language; and Montessori.
- Open Choice public schools in high-performing districts outside their residence.
- Three regional technical high schools specializing in career and technical education.
One driving force behind the implementation of school choice in the Greater Hartford Region stems from a landmark Connecticut Supreme Court case from 1989, Sheff v. O’Neill. A group of students and their parents, including then-fourth grader Milo Sheff, filed the lawsuit to address racial and economic isolation in the Hartford public school system. In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on Sheff v. O’Neill and declared that the existing racial and ethnic isolation of Hartford students of color was unconstitutional. In response, the state legislature and executive branch created an extensive voluntary school choice program — administered by the Greater Hartford Regional School Choice Office (RSCO)— that includes interdistrict magnet schools, Open Choice public school districts, and technical and agricultural high schools to create a more integrated and equitable education system. Through a series of stipulated agreements from 2003 to the present, the School Choice program has expanded over the years since the Connecticut Supreme Court decision and has resulted in a major reduction in the racial and ethnic isolation of Hartford students, as well as an extensive school choice system that empowers families to actively participate in their children's education by choosing unique and high-quality learning environments that cater to students’ strengths and passions.
The most recent stipulated agreements in the Sheff case – including what is known as the Phase IV Stipulation and Court Order from 2020, and the Comprehensive School Choice Plan (CCP) from 2022 – expanded seat capacity for Greater Hartford students, allocated significant funding for school and program enhancements, and added substantial improvements in the application process and transparency for Greater Hartford Region families. The CCP includes a long-term plan for meeting demand by Hartford-resident students for a diverse school setting and supporting a sustainable system of integrated education in the Greater Hartford Region.
Demand under the Sheff Settlement
The State of Connecticut and the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) are committed to providing students in the Greater Hartford Region with the opportunity to choose high-quality schools that reflect the real world. At the most basic level, this means that the State believes that students who wish to have an integrated educational experience should have one. The Sheff v. O’Neill case – referenced above – specifically focuses on the opportunity for Hartford-resident students’ access to an integrated educational experience. Per the CCP, the State committed to meeting the demand by Hartford-resident students of color for an integrated educational experience on a very specific schedule and as defined in a specific way. This CCP has been approved by the Connecticut General Assembly and by the Connecticut Superior Court and is therefore enforceable as a legal obligation on the part of the State. Information about demand will help guide the State in managing the school choice system now and in the future.
An important part of the process of meeting demand for this type of educational opportunity is assessing the number of Hartford-resident students of color who wish to have an integrated educational experience. This assessment will help the State plan for building capacity at RSCO schools and programs. This is a planning tool and not a guarantee about offers. We want to emphasize here exactly what is required in the application process in order for an applicant to be included in the State calculation of demand for this type of educational opportunity for transparency. Based on the terms of the CCP, in order to be included in the State calculation of demand, a Hartford-resident student of color applying to schools through the RSCO process must select one of the following options: (1) at least 1 magnet school plus Open Choice or CTECS; (2) Open Choice and/or CTECS and no magnet schools; or (3) if applying to magnet schools, at least 2 such schools. We want to make clear, however, that the above requirements are only for the SDE purposes of assessing the demand of Hartford-resident students for an integrated educational experience in order to plan capacity in the school choice system. This assessment does not affect individual applications or placement offers. Applicants who make their school selections based on the individual choices that do not fit within the demand definition will not be affected in any way and will remain eligible to be placed in schools through the RSCO application and placement process. Calculating demand is for planning purposes only and does not affect individual applicants.