Friday, February 6, 2009

Princeton Prefers Not To

As local school districts confront the DOE’s efficiency formulas which dictate how much we should be spending on everything from transportation to informational pamphlets, look to Princeton Regional School District as a harbinger of how elite schools will react.

At their school board meeting last week (here's a link to the online video), Superintendent Judy Wilson and Board President Alan Hegedus discussed their plans to “draw a line in the sand” if forced to reduce costs to conform to the State’s “median expenditure per student.” Hegedus recounted recent discussions with State Senator Shirley Turner and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora about “losing local control” which he finds “wholly unacceptable.” He also noted for the record that the Princeton School Board was willing to “challenge in court the constitutional right of the DOE” to mandate restrictions in local spending. Said Hegedus, “We haven’t spent decades getting to where we are without the expectation that that will continue.”

Why is this Mercer County district in such a blather? Easy: they want freedom from governmental interference in their wealthy and high-achieving school district, including the right to spend as much as they friggin’ want to on their kids. And they do. Princeton’s per/pupil cost is $18,110, well above the State average of $14,359. And they get what they pay for. For example, in Princeton High School, population 1306, the number of AP participants was 1315. (Obviously, lots of kids take more than 1 AP course.) Their AP results show that 863 kids got scores of 3 or more. 52.9% of high school students take AP courses and 83.4% go on to 4-year colleges. (DOE database here.)

Let’s look at another Mercer County district: East Windsor Regional, which is a nifty comparison since they spend $14,400 per pupil, just a tad above the State average. The 1416 kids at Hightstown High took a total of 317 AP courses and 173 scored 3 or higher, with a total AP participation rate of 15.9%. 50.3% of their graduates go on to a 4-year college.

Now, Princeton is a wealthier community, but not by much: they are rated as an I DFG (District Factor Group, a measure of the community’s socio-economic level) and East Windsor is a GH. So is the difference in achievement a product of the substantially greater resources that Princeton pours into its kids? Doesn’t the community have to right to decide to foot the bill? Or can the State create a platform of educational equity and legislate level playing fields?

By the way, just down Route 206 from Princeton is Trenton Central High, where there are 2475 kids of whom 7.2% take AP courses and 34.4% go on to 4-year colleges. But that’s a whole other story.

These kids all live within the same county. Should their residence within one municipality over another determine their education? Is our civic responsibility to provide public education limited to our street address or our state residence? If Princeton has its way, it will be left in the hands of the State Courts.

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