Some legislative leaders are touting part of the budget implementer bill that will help children in this area, beginning in the 2022-23 school year. It allows for expansion of the Open Choices Pilot Program for Danbury and Norwalk. Students from those cities will be able to attend schools in neighboring districts to help address increasing enrollment in Danbury and Norwalk while student population in nearby towns are declining.
Supporters of the program testified that this will also help make suburban schools more diverse.
In the first year, 50 students from Danbury can go to New Fairfield, Brookfield, Bethel, Ridgefield or Redding schools. 50 from Norwalk will be able to attend nearby schools in Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, Weston and Westport. The budget includes $275,000 in the 2022-23 fiscal year and $900,000 in 2023-24 to establish the program in Danbury and Norwalk.
The state pays for the cost of busing students while the host and receiving districts split school funding from the state. Additional, individualized education costs are paid for by the sending district, meaning either Danbury or Norwalk. A per-pupil grant follows each student to the host district. Depending on how many students are accepted, the grant ranges from $3,000 to $8,000 per child.
The program is in place in 42 other districts.
Region 9 Superintendent Rydell Harrison says Easton has been hosting Bridgeport students for more than 20 years. He says the district has seen a benefit to adding to the diversity of thinking in the classroom. The students matriculate to Joel Barlow High School. Redding does not currently host students, but wants to accept those from Danbury into the program.
Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi says the Open Choice program could also be beneficial to Ridgefield, where schools have lost racial and socioeconomic diversity.