Sheff v. O'Neill Supreme Court Ruling and Subsequent Stipulation Agreements
Mar 21, 2022
Connecticut Supreme Court Ruling
In 1996, in a 4-3 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the state had an affirmative obligation to provide Connecticut's school children with a substantially equal educational opportunity and that this constitutionally guaranteed right encompasses the access to a public education, which is not substantially and materially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation. The Court further concluded that school districting, based upon town and city boundary lines, is unconstitutional. As a result of the decision, the Connecticut State Legislature passed legislation in 1997 encouraging voluntary actions toward racial integration. The act also included a number of other measures related to magnet and regional charter schools and included a requirement for the Connecticut State Department of Education to come up with a five-year plan to assess and eliminate inequalities between school districts.
Permanent Injunction & Settlement
On March 21, 2022, a 10-year agreement was officially finalized in the case. The agreement marks an end to the decades-long case and requires the State of Connecticut to comply with the terms of a Comprehensive School Choice Plan. As part for the agreement:
- The State of Connecticut commits to ensuring 95% of Hartford students wishing to attend a school choice program will be able to do so by the 2028-29 school year.
- School choice options in the Sheff region will be expanded, reformulated, and created to increase diversity and attract students.
- Sheff magnet schools will receive at LEAST their current total funding amount, consisting of their per-student grant plus tuition, through the life of the agreement – regardless of any changes to the state magnet grant or the ability of districts to charge tuition.
- By the 2028-29 school year, a minimum of 2,737 new seats will be added for Hartford students to attend area magnet schools, Open Choice districts, and technical high schools.
- The Open Choice grant for receiving districts in the Sheff region will increase by $2,000 per student to incentivize suburban districts to open up an additional 450 new seats for Hartford students.
- Additional funding will be provided to Open Choice districts that enroll students at entry grades or increase available seats by 20% or more from the previous year.
- The State will provide $12.6 million to magnet school operators from FY 2023 to FY 2025 to establish new extracurricular opportunities and provide or increase athletic offerings.
Previous Stipulation Agreements
In 2002, the plaintiffs returned to court dissatisfied with the rate of school integration since the Connecticut Supreme Court's ruling in 1996. After two evidentiary hearings, the Sheff plaintiffs and then-Gov. John Rowland came to a mediated agreement as to the implementation of a number of voluntary, interdistrict programs designed to reduce the racial and ethnic isolation of Hartford students. This temporary, 4-year settlement — approved by both the General Assembly and the trial court — is known as the Phase I stipulated agreement and required, among other things, the State to spend $45 million over four years to establish eight additional magnet schools in the Hartford area. The out-of-court settlement also required the State to increase the percentage of Hartford students attending integrated schools to 30 percent by 2007.
In 2007, the Sheff plaintiffs returned to court again claiming the State of Connecticut failed to increase the percentage of Hartford students attending integrated schools to 30 percent by the designated time under the 2003 settlement. As a result of returning to court, in 2008 the Sheff plaintiffs and the State agreed to a new five-year Phase II settlement that called for building more magnet schools in the Hartford suburbs and expanding the number of openings available for Hartford children through Project Choice (formerly Project Concern). The Phase II settlement also included state-run technical and agricultural high schools.
In April 2013, the parties in Sheff v. O’Neill adopted a one-year, court-ordered stipulation allowing the State an additional year to reach the 2012-13 goal of 41 percent of Hartford’s minority students being in “reduced isolation settings." Later in December 2013, the parties announced a one-year Phase 3 settlement, which increased the number of magnet school seats, expanded Open Choice, and allocated funds to strengthen a Hartford neighborhood “Lighthouse School." In 2015, the case's parties would adopt a one-year extension of the Phase 3 settlement.
On January 10, 2020, the parties in the case agreed to a new stipulated agreement that was intended to provide a pathway for ending the litigation and judicial oversight of the case. Among its many components, the stipulated agreement required the Connecticut State Department of Education to develop a long-term, comprehensive school choice plan that would help ensure the stability, sustainability, and predictable and efficient operation of Sheff programs, as well as offer strategies for: providing a seat for every student who applies through the lottery, increasing teacher diversity, and addressing racial disparities in student discipline and academic achievement.
Citation for Permanent Injunction & Settlement
Permanent Injunction, Sheff v. O’Neill, Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. HHD-CV17-S040566S (January 27, 2022). Retrieved from https://ctschoolfinance.org/resource-assets/Sheff-Permanent-Injunction.pdf.
Citation for Connecticut Supreme Court Ruling
Sheff v. O’Neill, 238 Conn. 1, 678 A.2d 1267 (1996).
Citation for Original Plaintiff Complaint
Complaint, Sheff v. O’Neill, Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford/New Britain at Hartford (April 26, 1989). Retrieved from http://ctschoolfinance.org/resource-assets/1989-Sheff-Complaint.pdf.
Citation for 2003 Stipulation Agreement
Stipulation and Order, Sheff v. O’Neill, Superior Court, judicial district of New Britain, Docket No. X03-89-042119S (January 22, 2003). Retrieved from http://ctschoolfinance.org/resource-assets/2003-Sheff-Stipulation.pdf.
Citation for 2008 Stipulation Agreement
Stipulation and Proposed Order, Sheff v. O’Neill, Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. HHD-X07-CV89-4026240-S (April 4, 2008). Retrieved from http://ctschoolfinance.org/resource-assets/2008-Sheff-Stipulation.pdf.
Citation for the April 2013 Stipulation Agreement
Stipulation and Order, Sheff v. O’Neill, Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. HHD-X07-CV89-4026240-S (April 30, 2013). Retrieved from http://ctschoolfinance.org/resource-assets/2013-April-30-Sheff-Stipulation.pdf.
Citation for the December 2013 Stipulation Agreement
Stipulation and Proposed Order, Sheff v. O’Neill, Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. HHD-X07-CV89-4026240-S (December 13, 2013). Retrieved from http://ctschoolfinance.org/resource-assets/2013-December-13-Sheff-Stipulation.pdf.
Citation for the 2015 Extension of the Phase 3 Settlement
Stipulation and Order, Sheff v. O’Neill, Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. HHD-X07-CV89-4026240-S (February 23, 2015). Retrieved from http://ctschoolfinance.org/resource-assets/2015-Sheff-Stipulation.pdf.
Citation for the January 2020 Stipulation Agreement
Revised Stipulation and Order Correcting Typographical Errors, Sheff v. O’Neill, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. LND CV-17-5045066-S (January 10, 2020). Retrieved from http://ctschoolfinance.org/resource-assets/2020-Sheff-Stipulation.pdf.