Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Editorial | N.J. School Funding

Following the neediest

Gov. Corzine makes a good case that changing times call for a changed strategy in how New Jersey spends its education dollars to assist the state's poorest and lowest-achieving students.

When questions are asked about the long-term impact of Corzine's plan, though, the governor will face another hurdle: Can he guarantee any better than previous Trenton administrations that the school aid will be put to good use?

Credit Corzine, at least, for opening a discussion on what is a complex and contentious issue.

Currently, about half of the $11 billion in state education funding goes to 31 of the poorest districts, such as Camden. The remaining 585 school districts get the other half.

The Corzine administration has decided the state's education funding formula is unfair. The duel funding system stems from a 1990 state Supreme Court decision, known as the Abbott case, that ensured that per-student funding for mainly urban districts remained on par with wealthy suburban districts

This was a noble decision, but times have changed. In an effort to adjust the funding system, Corzine proposes spreading the money to wherever poor students live - while maintaining support for the original 31 Abbott districts.

This makes sense as a matter of fairness, particularly for working-class districts - among them Pennsauken and Paulsboro - that don't qualify as Abbotts. But questions remain in how the funding reform will work.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which advocates for Abbott districts, asks how anyone could be for or against Corzine's proposal without knowing its long-term impact.

Past attempts to rush through education spending formulas have been thrown out by the court.

However it plays out, one thing is certain: The state needs to better oversee how all of its education dollars are spent.

Many New Jersey taxpayers consider the Abbott districts to be money pits that failed to put the additional funding to good use. Just consider the numerous Camden schools scandals.

Perhaps part of the problem in cities like Camden, or Newark, is that no amount of funding for education can overcome the underlying dysfunctions of concentrated poverty.

Creating jobs, finding ways to stop children from having children, proper nutrition, stabilizing families, and creating positive role models are equally important in promoting learning.

But however the money for education is divided, the state needs to ensure the money is well spent.

State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy has shown signs of being more active in this regard, ordering audits for Camden and other districts, and promising to put Abbott district officials' "feet to the fire."

But it can't stop there.

With additional funding potentially headed to support poor students in other struggling school districts, Davy needs to explain in simple terms - free of jargon - who qualifies, why, and how the money should best be spent.

Her department needs to ensure that the funds are used as expected. The state also should step up efforts to measure success. Otherwise, further spending increases may be viewed as throwing good money after bad.