The Trenton Times has published an op-ed by the Vice President of the Trenton School Board, Alexander Brown. It’s both a primer on the history of the Abbott decisions and a condemnation of Corzine’s new School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), which removes the “Abbott” label from State finances on the (true) grounds that many of our poorest kids reside outside of those 31 Abbotts. Tooting a dusty horn, Brown says,
The urban school districts are fortunate to have the state Supreme Court as an ally in the struggle — the only branch of government capable of rendering a fair assessment of the funding needs of the Abbott public schools to ensure that urban children receive the quality education they deserve.
(A side note: Brown has no problem with the segregation of low-income, minority students: “a segregated school system need not be inequitable or ineffective as long as there is a commitment to provide sufficient funds.”)
There’s plenty to dislike about the new SFRA, which is presaged on the assumption that the State DOE is capable of figuring out where exactly the poor kids are at any given moment, regardless of where they live in New Jersey. On the other hand, Corzine is right about the diaspora of poor children from urban inner cities to, well, just about everywhere else across the State. Brown’s anachronistic insistence that the State privilege urban children is as timely and forward-looking as love beads and leisure suits.
But you’ve got to love New Jersey’s commitment to poor children getting the same education as rich children. We stand by our culture of each little town having its own identity, its own rights, its own governance. Simultaneously, with a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance, we maintain our idealistic stance that all children in our State “deserve,” to use Mr. Brown’s words, the same educational advantages. There’s something quintessentially American about this atonal confluence of individuality and equity.
For a completely different perspective, see Joseph Berger’s article in Friday’s New York Times, “Making Sense of School Consolidation.” Berger profiles three small school districts on the East End of Long Island that have been targeted for consolidation by a state commission headed by Thomas R. Suozzi, the Nassau County executive. It won’t go through, for all the reasons that it won’t go through in New Jersey either, at least in its current form: one town’s taxes will go up and the residents can vote it down, smallness creates its own efficiencies, and New Yorkers like their home rule too:
And there are intangibles that might be lost by consolidation. Residents of small districts take pride in their intimate, homey atmosphere, where the superintendent knows every pupil by name and thirsty students can go to a refrigerated glass case in the superintendent’s office and pull out a container of milk.
But here’s the chief difference: there’s no Abbott decisions in New York. So, for example, Amagansett district (one of those profiled in the Berger article) spends $40,900 for each of their 115 pupils, about $10,000 more per kid than the most prestigious private schools in Manhattan. In other words, Amagansett residents can create within their own borders a rigorous, exclusive, academic academy and no one’s shouting “It’s not fair! My kid doesn’t get that in Trenton!”