Truthiness, adequacy, and the New Jersey way
New Jersey's Supreme Court ordered Chris Christie to cough up another $500 million in funding for the state's schools in a 3-2 ruling today. Very few people (aside from the three justices in the majority and Mark Zuckerberg) would argue that NJ's worst-performing schools can be fixed with more money, however.
So-called "Abbott districts," which get more money under another NJ Supreme Court ruling that deemed education in those locales inadequate, are among the highest-spending districts in the country. Newark, which is one of them, tops out at $23,000 per student using the state's new accounting method. Education in these districts is indeed inadequate and horribly shortchanges the youngsters who live there, but after 25 years of receiving extra resources, it seems clear that the problem goes deeper than money. Unfortunately, the question of what constitutes an "adequate" education in New Jersey has largely revolved around funding issues rather than processes and outcomes for children.
Nevertheless, I agree with Bruce Baker that the court's rather narrow decision was the correct one. (This may be one for the record books.) Bruce found in a recent analysis that while New Jersey's funding system is fairly progressive, giving more state aid to poorer districts, Gov. Christie's recent cuts hit high-poverty districts the hardest. Today's decision is a perfect example of checks and balances functioning correctly, with the court restoring support to the poorest and most challenged residents of New Jersey.
Hopefully these restored funds will be put to good use. Newark has a newly-appointed superintendent and the state education department has new leadership as well. There's an opportunity here to end business as usual and deploy the substantial resources afforded New Jersey's worst-performing school systems to provide an education for kids that far surpasses "adequate." Hopefully the state's education leaders will rise to the occasion.
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.
June 13, 2013