Gordon MacInnes, a former Assistant Commissioner at the DOE and now a lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School, has a scathing editorial in the Star-Ledger called “The Supreme Court’s Abbot Delusion.” Last week the Supreme Court voted 5-0 to overturn the State’s new school funding formula (at least temporarily – the case got delegated to a “Grand Master” for further review), and MacInnes labels this a “crushing blow” for Corzine and the Legislature:
The court’s decision effectively kills the plan to improve educational opportunities for poor children who happen not to live in the 31 Abbott districts recognized by the court.
MacInnes is obviously a big fan of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, which effectively ends the court-mandated practice of heaving huge amounts of cash at 31 designated “Abbott” districts, which are believed (here’s the delusion) to house New Jersey’s poor:
Abbott is supposed to be about inequities that constrict the educational opportunities of poor children residing in poor districts. Unhappily, 50 percent of New Jersey’s poor children reside outside the Abbott districts. Moreover, Abbott districts like Hoboken, Burlington City, Phillipsburg, Neptune Township, Pemberton and Garfield are much less disadvantaged than many non-Abbott districts.
He goes on to advocate preschool for poor kids, calling it “the gap that most districts never close,” and to malign other Court-ordered educational remedies, the omission of services for poor Latinos (our fastest growing group in Abbotts and other poor districts), and the lack of distinction made between successful Abbott districts like Elizabeth, Union City, and Perth Amboy, and unsuccessful Abbotts like Camden (which “increased per student spending from $8,300 to $15,400 without any improvement in performance”).
While MacInnes’ idealization of the SFRA seems premature (as well as his confidence in its demise), he’s right about the Court’s slavish devotion to the obsolete division of New Jersey into Abbott and non-Abbott, as though all our poor residents are sloughed off into pre-designated school districts. To be fair, everyone from the Education Law Center to the NAACP adheres to this myth, and we’re sure that all those amici briefs put pressure on the jurists. Nonetheless, the Court’s adherence to a flawed and outdated model means that the poor kids in the non-Abbotts will continue to lose funding, oversight, and, now it appears, pre-school, which is, according to MacInnes, the cornerstone of educational achievement.
So, if you are a poor kid in Elizabeth or Neptune, you get your funding. If you’re a poor kid in Willingboro or Lodi you’re stuck. The Court’s Abbott decisions, including this last one, pretend to ameliorate the inequities of a school system that relies on local funding, perpetuating the myth that we can retain home rule and still offer all our kids an adequate education.