New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has just proposed an absurd school funding reform plan that has united advocates left and right. All agree that it is immoral.
Joe Hernandez of Newsworks explains Christie’s new idea: “Gov. Chris Christie is proposing major changes to the way New Jersey doles out education funding to school districts. Departing from a decades-old policy in which the state sent more aid to low-performing urban districts, Christie is recommending a funding formula that gives every district $6,599 per student.”
Here is the response of the editorial board of the NY Times: “(A) flat amount would make it impossible for poor communities to provide a sound education for disadvantaged children who need classrooms with more resources. The state is required by law to send more money to those communities because they simply don’t have the tax base or property values to raise additional revenues on their own. The New Jersey Supreme Court mandated this approach in Abbott v. Burke, a case named for Raymond Abbott, a student in Camden who received no services for a learning disability and was barely literate at the age of 15. The court ruled in 1990, and in many rulings since, that New Jersey was bound by the State Constitution to fund districts at a level that allows all children to receive an education that enables them to participate in the economy and a democratic society… The 31 New Jersey school districts…known as ‘Abbott Districts’ educate nearly a quarter of the state’s students, more than 40 percent of its poor children and 56 percent of its English language learners.”
Dana Goldstein, writing for Slate, describes the plan: “In fact, if enacted, Christie’s proposal would amount to a huge giveaway to the children and families who are already thriving in New Jersey while hurting the kids who most need a leg up. With this plan, the governor hopes to lower taxes…. Here’s how Christie’s proposal would work in practice: Hillsborough Township, the leafy suburb where he delivered his speech, is 78 percent white, 8 percent Latino, and 5 percent black. Its education funding would increase by 86 percent under Christie’s plan. In high-poverty Newark, which is 84 percent black and Latino, funding would decrease by a devastating 69 percent.”
And Shavar Jeffries—farther to the right and now president of the pro-charter, hedge-funded PAC Democrats for Education Reform, and a former candidate for mayor of Newark—agrees: “Every child in this state and across the country deserves access to a high-quality public education, regardless of their background or what zip code they happen to live in. But to help achieve this basic right for all our public school students, both in traditional and public charter schools, we need the equitable funding policies that Gov. Christie is looking to strip away… For decades, both state and national education law has recognized that different kids need different levels of funding based on their needs, and for 40 years the New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized the extraordinary burdens that concentrated poverty places on the educational destinies of our children. Gov. Christie’s proposal ignores these plain realities in favor of a false equality that wishes away the self-evident differences in the educational environments within which our children learn.”
In his acclaimed, 2013 book, Improbable Scholars, David Kirp, the Berkeley professor of public policy, describes the implications of New Jersey’s school funding—grounded in the legislative remedy for Abbott v. Burke: “(T)he fact that New Jersey spends more than $16,000 per student, third in the nation, partly explains why a state in which nearly half the students are minorities and a disproportionate share are immigrants has the country’s highest graduation rate and ranks among the top five on the National Assessment of Educational Progress…. The additional money also helps to account for how New Jersey halved the achievement gap between black, Latino, and white students between 1999 and 2007, something no other state has come close to accomplishing.” (p, 85)
William Mathis of the National Education Policy Center summarizes a number of school finance principles grounded in years’ of research, in a new brief that contravenes Christie’s bizarre concept of equity via flat-funding: “Adequate and equitable distributions of school financial resources are a necessary underlying condition for maintaining democracy, improving school quality and equality of outcomes. While specific results vary from place to place, in general, money does matter and it matters most for economically deprived children. Gains from investing in education are found in test scores, later earnings, and graduation rates. The largest gains in achievement have been in states that have undertaken fundamental financial reforms.”
Chris Christie is blinded by the dream that he can regain popularity by cutting taxes at the expense of the state’s poorest children.