Gov. Christie is taking a lot of heat for proposed reforms in school funding, including revising the way we tally up kids eligible for free/reduced lunch (think the corruption in Elizabeth where board members illicitly signed up their own ineligible kids and the general lack of oversight) not to mention the way we measure enrollment (see today’s Spotlight for details).
Some of these changes are common sense. Some are overkill. But there’s overheated rhetoric on both sides. (See Education Law Center’s press release for an example: “GOVERNOR PROPOSES USING DISCREDITED METHOD TO COUNT STUDENTS FOR STATE SCHOOL AID”). And some of this melodrama could have been avoided if the Governor had chosen the members of his Education Funding Task Force just a little more wisely.
I don’t usually agree with Bob Braun, but his column this week slamming the composition of the Task Force is fair. There’s only 7 members – its saving grace of prudence is its chair, Rochelle Hendricks – but her six underlings are a handful. I mean, Father Ed Leahy seems like a great guy, but according to Braun he knows nothing about school finance. And Tea Partier Jerry Cantrell? Really? Cantrell’s Common Sense Institute alleges that Sea Isle City School District pays $40,000 per kid per year. That’s just a wee bit inflammatory (and not true).
Another member of the Task Force is Charles Urban, an acolyte of “Fair Tax” Senator Mike Doherty, who would have us ignore every piece of research that shows that poor kids need more resources to learn and garners its energy from Conservative suburban resentment of New Jersey’s admittedly profligate school spending.
Wouldn’t it have been a simple matter to appoint a few moderates to the panel? Or to not choose the really extreme ones? The result is a Task Force already discredited, so deeply politicized, that its conclusions, wise or not, will be undermined. That’s too bad. New Jersey could use a fresh look at public school funding. Remember also that changes may very well end up in Court. Imagine what David Sciarra could to Charles Urban in a debate about funding that’s really fair.