Paul Tractenberg, founder of the Education Law Center and law professor at Rutgers, contributes to a New York Times “dialogue” on how to address educational inequities and reduce “the alarming achievement gaps among children based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.”
New Jersey and New York have been prominent leaders in using litigation to equalize funding for urban school districts. But now, with fiscal crises everywhere, equalized funding for urban schools is under constant attack and its survival is uncertain.
What to do then? Can we overcome district and municipal boundaries and the compulsive commitment to localism that undergirds them? Perhaps the fiscal crunch afflicting states and localities will increase that possibility. Perhaps consolidating school districts and municipalities will cease being a political third rail if the case can be made for significant cost savings and other efficiencies.
Perhaps the Balkanized Northern states might even consider, dare I say, the Southern model of county, rather than municipal, school districts. In New Jersey, such a shift would reduce the number of districts from more than 600 to 21. Countywide school districts could open up all kinds of possibilities for educational reform that might start us on the road to truly equalizing opportunities for all students.