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How to reduce Connecticut’s school success gap

At first glance, Connecticut’s education statistics seem promising. Connecticut is frequently one the top five states in the country in average standardized test scores, and the state’s high school graduation rate is ranked in the top 10 of the country. In recent years, Connecticut has even been the top state in the rating of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool. 

But a closer look at the data reveals issues within state schools. Despite successes, the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers is huge. 

Connecticut’s per-capita income is the highest in the country, yet in the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Connecticut’s poor came in last in math. 

Most schools in Connecticut spend well above the national average per student. But in recent years, the gap in per-student spending between school districts is one of the largest in the country. Socioeconomic gaps between schools create great inequality in opportunity and success for students. 

A New York Times report compared Fairfield and Bridgeport and found that despite the towns’ proximity to one another, there were discrepancies between students. In Fairfield, where the median annual income is $120,000, 94 percent of students graduate from high school on time. The graduation rate in Bridgeport is only 63 percent. Among those who do obtain a diploma, many graduate with less education than their peers in other districts due to ingrained inequality that often begins in elementary school. At Harding High School in Bridgeport, many students enter reading at a third grade level.

Property taxes principally support Connecticut schools. Property-poor towns in the state are not able to support their students in the same manner as their counterparts, despite often having higher tax rates in an attempt to compensate.

There is no simple answer to Connecticut’s education disparity problem. But recognizing the issue and turning to the precedent-setting actions of other states is a step in the right direction. Encouraging college students to nurture a passion for teaching, especially in math and science, can help combat teacher shortages that many property-poor towns face. Strategically restructuring how the state marginalizes its school districts, particularly in areas where affluent towns border those with lower property values, could benefit poorer students without harming those that are well off.

Regardless of financial background or town of residence every child has the right to a educational foundation for their future and the opportunities that result. Contact your representatives at the state level and ask them to enforce this inherent right for all generations of Connecticut residents.

Cady Stanton is an intern at the Office of the Community Lawyer and a sophomore at Georgetown University.