Letter: More diversity benefits schools

To the Editors:
For the most part, the school consolidation bills have played themselves out, and Wilton shouldn’t be affected. But this leaves unresolved an issue that affects Wilton and most of the surrounding towns — the issue of diversity. Wilton, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, and Weston all have a very low proportion of minority students. And many studies show that more racial and socioeconomic diversity in a school benefits all of its students.
The Connecticut Open Choice program allows students in certain districts to attend school in surrounding districts, with the funding shared between the districts, and between the districts and the state. Each region is composed of a central city and suburban districts. Any of the districts can be a receiving or sending district, but the flow is almost always from the central city out. The receiving district decides how many seats it will make available. Students in the central city sign up for the program and are assigned to a receiving district. Once in the program, a student stays in the receiving district through graduation.
Why not add Norwalk to the current regions of Hartford, Bridgeport, New London, and New Haven? With the enrollment in Wilton and surrounding towns declining, towns could use those available seats to improve their racial diversity with its attendant benefits to all students.
Funding could be an issue, as the per-pupil grant is not generous, around $3,000 per pupil, increasing to a maximum of $8,000 per pupil if Open Choice students are more that 4% of the student population. However, per-pupil cost is a stepwise function, so the marginal cost of adding another student is considerably below the overall per-pupil cost. In addition, the state provides additional transportation for transportation between districts.
Including Norwalk as its own region could substantially improve school diversity in lower Fairfield County, with attendant benefit for all students.
Peter Squitieri
Wilton, April 5