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Behind Connecticut’s “Opportunity Gap”

In Hartford, Connecticut, a third-grade class read enough books to earn a pizza party. The excited students piled onto a bus, crossing the Connecticut River to a pizza parlor in East Hartford. One student pointed out the window: “What’s that?” She had never seen a river, recalls current Westport Public Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer. Shortly after, Palmer visited a third-grade classroom in the affluent town of Weston. A girl told Palmer it was almost her birthday, and Palmer asked what she was doing to celebrate. The answer: her father was taking her to Paris.

In 2015, the Economic Analysis and Research Network, a national economic policy coalition, reported that Connecticut has the largest income gap between the top 1 percent of taxpayers and bottom 99 percent. Perhaps because of this, Connecticut also has the nation’s largest achievement gap among pre-K-12 students.

Consider two districts. This year, Suburban Westport, Connecticut, is spending $21,716 per student and, as of 2016, its public schools are ranked first in the state based on factors including academic proficiency, student and parent satisfaction and teacher excellence. The city of New Haven, home to Yale University, spent $19,746 per student this academic year, and its public schools rank 101st out of 118 state districts.

Connecticut data-sharing nonprofit Data Haven found in 2013 that in Greater New Haven, 17 percent of low-income students were reading at grade level as compared to 58 percent of their high-income peers. The Tauck Family Foundation, a private foundation that invests in the development of children from low-income families in Bridgeport, reports that students in low-performing schools are five times more likely to drop out of high school than those in high-performing schools.