State Audit Finds Magnet Schools Bypassed Lottery Enrollment for Some Students

Connecticut State Auditors found 47 students were enrolled in magnet schools outside of the lottery process during the 2016-2017 school year in a new audit of the State Department of Education, potentially violating the 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill State Supreme Court ruling.

The auditors wrote “Allowing admission to the magnet schools outside the lottery may result in minority applicants being shut out of the school they applied to.”

Magnet schools were established in response to the Sheff decision, which ruled that racially segregated schools – even if unintentional — were a violation of the state constitution. Magnet schools use a lottery system to determine which students are enrolled, and 25 percent of the student population must be white or Asian to ensure racial diversity.

A previous audit found that Capitol Preparatory Magnet School had enrolled 19 students outside of the lottery system in the 2015-2016 school year, most of whom were non-Hartford residents.

The CSDE currently faces a lawsuit by Hartford parents who allege the lottery system and racial quota system for Connecticut magnet schools is a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Robinson v. Wentzell was recently brought before federal court to determine whether it will become a federal case, potentially overruling Sheff v. O’Neill.

The CSDE disagreed with the auditors’ findings, noting they withheld funds from those schools totaling $554,964 over two years because of the improper enrollments.

The auditors, however, said withholding funds does not necessarily solve the problem.

“The SDE withholding of tuition after the fact does not address the issue of students being enrolled in schools outside of the lottery process,” the auditors wrote. “Their admission policy takes spaces from students who followed the appropriate process and deserved admission.”

This is the second yearly audit to find students were admitted to magnet schools without enrolling in the lottery system, but State Auditor John Geragosian believes the CSDE is taking steps in the right direction.

“We think they have solved part of the issue by not paying for students admitted outside the lottery,” Geragosian said. “We believe the department has made significant progress on solving the problem completely.”

A statement released by CSDE said the department has taken corrective measures to ensure only students admitted through the lottery process attend magnet schools, including conducting its own internal audit.

“In instances in which RSCO (Regional School Choice Office) finds students were improperly enrolled outside the lottery process, CSDE withholds those students’ tuition payments from the magnet operator,” SDE Spokesman Peter Yazbak wrote.

This article was amended to include the statement from SDE

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