Residential segregation in Connecticut—and the subsequent educational segregation—persists due to ongoing racial discrimination, current town zoning ordinances, and school district boundaries. This report explores the role local zoning commissions and boards of education (BOEs) play in the continued segregation of Connecticut’s school districts. It examines statewide data and then takes a deep-dive into a few towns in Fairfield County. While the authors certainly could have focused on any of the various Connecticut counties, they selected Fairfield County due to its highly segregated schools, high levels of income inequality, the ongoing conversations regarding exclusionary zoning in the area, and the growing population. The goal is to shed light on the ways municipal housing and education policies interact to impede and improve opportunity for and investment in Black and Latinx communities.
This report focuses on intra-municipal segregation, or segregation within a town. While much research has been done on segregation across town lines in Connecticut, less attention has been given to the patterns of segregation and racially distinct neighborhoods within town lines.
The consequences of intra-municipal segregation are well-documented. First, lower-income Black and Latinx people commonly live in neighborhoods with fewer resources than white people. Due to structural racism and systematic inequality, Connecticut’s Black and Latinx residents are poorer on average than white residents and are disproportionately affected by the challenges listed below.
The experience of this social and economic disadvantage depresses student performance in the following areas:
• Poor students are three to four times more likely to experience chronic absenteeism—or missing more than 10 percent of school days per year—due to factors such as frequent illness, violence in the community, frequent familial moves, or caring for siblings.15 The more frequently students miss school, the worse their academic performance is.
• Poor families, particularly poor Black families, are more likely to experience eviction and the subsequent frequent moves. Children who change schools experience declines in educational achievement, due to interruptions in instruction, disruption of peer networks, and interference with the development of close, personal relationships.
• Further, the housing conditions of poor families may not be conducive to academic success. Approximately 14 percent of school-aged children have no broadband connection at home;18 many lack a quiet place to study alone; and childhood exposure to lead, which most frequently affects children of color, influences later academic achievement.
• Food insecurity, which includes reduced frequency, quality, and variety of meals, has been shown to reduce a child’s chance of graduating from high school21 and leaves them less physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially ready to perform effectively in school and beyond.
• Affected by the stressors of poverty and racism, low-income children of color are at a greater risk of developing mental health problems and are less likely to receive effective treatment. In the absence of treatment, children with mental illness are likely to face challenges in school.
The challenges students face do not stand alone, but instead interact with one another. A student may be absent from class due to a combination of food insecurity, housing insecurity, mental health challenges, and beyond. Thus, even with the highest quality of instruction, poor students who are concentrated into higher poverty neighborhoods face academic challenges that depress student performance.
But these students do not receive the same type of education as white students and students from wealthy families. Children who experience similar disadvantages—such as housing and food insecurity—are concentrated into racially and economically homogeneous schools where they often receive a lower quality education due to an array of factors. Black and Latinx students are five times more likely to attend a high poverty school than white students.
In racially segregated, high-poverty schools, there are fewer resources, more teacher turnover, and less experienced teachers.
Further, many of these schools have higher rates of school discipline pushing Black and Latinx students out of the classroom.
The combination of these experiences depresses student performance. The trauma associated with being a low-income student of color combined with the experience of attending a high-poverty racially segregated school deeply affects the educational experience of children of color. Intra-municipal residential segregation, or segregation of a town into racially distinct neighborhoods, is one cause of segregated schools. The residential segregation of Connecticut’s towns did not happen by accident. It exists due to a history of racist and discriminatory policies that deliberately set Black and Brown neighborhoods up to fail.