I have a hard time listening to lawyers describe our public schools. I want to stand up and shout: go to a school! We could have gotten up from the Trenton court room and walked a few blocks to a school that the Christie administration says meets the constitutional requirements of a “thorough and efficient” education. It won’t have up to date technology, it won’t have science labs, it won’t be energy efficient, it won’t be fully staffed…. But because we are spending more money than before, the kids are ok. That’s what the assistant Attorney General said.
She also continued to use a false comparsion about per pupil expenditures, comparing a suburban district to the favorite whipping boy, Asbury Park. Sure some suburban district spends less, but they don’t have the poverty, the English language learners, or the concentration of special education students. It is useful to remember that when the Legislature was creating the School Funding Reform Act [SFRA], experts told them that to get to the same outcome, say graduation, it costs twice as much for poverty and ELL’s and 3 times as much for special education students.
For me, the focus on outcomes is a missing part of the conversation. It’s not about how much money, but what the money buys to get our kids to a “thorough and efficient education.” It is also useful to remember that in Abbott X, the court itself said that “thorough and efficient” meant to be able to participate as a citizen and be productive.
Until our schools educate all our children through high school graduation with the skills to earn a living wage job, maintain a family and participate in our democracy, we are not done. And the cost to us if we continue to flush children of the our schools without skills mounts every year. The costs of the criminal justice system, jails, welfare, family support, homeless services, charity care in hospitals are the price we pay when we don’t educate our children.
The Supreme Court needs to be very hard headed about this. Public education is a constitutional requirement; supporting horse racing and sports authorities [just to name a few] are not. See Bob Braun’s column in today’s Star Ledger for more on the constitutional challenge. Perhaps we ought to read the NJ State Consititution out loud as Governor Christie presents the budget.
I am working for the day that we can talk about educating our students without enduring false comparisons and twisted facts. How about you?