Sources: Pacific Legal Foundation, Data USA: Hartford, CT, Sheff v. O’Neill Settlement, Hartford Courant
The ongoing case of Robinson v. Wentzell contests a Connecticut law that imposes race based quotas on Hartford magnet schools. The city of Hartford runs several world class magnet schools that are in such high demand that a lottery, run by the state’s Regional School Choice Office, is used to determine which applicants can attend these schools. However, there is a catch. Connecticut state law requires the student body of magnet schools to be at least 25% white and asian and no more than 75% black and hispanic, even if it means some seats in these schools remain empty. This is a problem in Hartford, CT where only 15.4% of the population is white, and a measly 2.6% are asian. On the other hand, over 35% of the population is black and close to 45% of the population is hispanic. Thus, the lottery is deliberately rigged in favor of white and asian applicants.
Checking the race and ethnicity of students at the front of waitlists — welcoming them if they are white; denying them seats if they are black or Latino — may be the most startling piece of the magnet-school selection process. But it is not the only way the system suppresses minority enrollment in high-performing Sheff schools.
This is perhaps another example of the law of unintended consequences at work. The law in question stemmed from a 1996 state supreme court decision in Sheff v. O’Neill holding that all school children should have substantially equal educational opportunities and urging the legislature to curb racial segregation and discrimination in public schools. As a result, the Connecticut General Assembly passed and then governor John Rowland enacted Act 97-290, which put into motion several recommendations made by the governor’s Education Improvement Panel including the creation of 8 interdistrict magnet schools in Hartford and a mandate that at least 25% of the students enrolled in these schools be white or asian. The law was intended to reduce racial segregation but it has had the opposite effect by denying minority children in the applicant pool admission and keeping them in segregated, woefully underfunded neighborhood schools. Even some of the plaintiffs to the original sheff case have turned against the law that resulted from it.
"I do not think that a child has to sit next to any specific type of child or race of child or religion of child to get a good education. So those seats are empty? Fill them up!" said Best, who was a young mother when she and her daughter Neiima signed on as plaintiffs. "Let's think out of the box and let's just say, 'OK, we tried this. We offered this. Now who wants to come here?' And fill up the seats."
This is not the first time that liberal policies have backfired on the minority groups they were meant to help. It happens more often than most people notice. The same liberals championing affirmative action on college campuses also admit that it disproportionately benefits white women. If that is so, why keep it around? Women already out number men nearly 2 to 1 on college campuses. The war on drugs was just as much a liberal effort to clean up the inner city as it was an initiative of the Nixon admin. At its outset, it was supported by the congressional black caucus and high profile liberal politicians like Nelson Rockefeller, Jerry Brown, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton etc. And yet liberals today tell us that enforcement of the Controlled Substances Acts disproportionately harms minority communities and that the laws are racist. The same could be said of the current liberal effort to legalize pot. Although not as overtly authoritarian as the war on drugs, it is by all measures an attempt to tighten state control over what people can put in their own bodies, and as an unintended side effect black people are still twice as likely to be arrested for cultivating cannabis.