In 1990, Chief Justice Robert Wilentz issued the Abbott II decision, one in a series of rulings that inform NJ’s school funding structure. The ruling was a resounding victory for its plaintiffs -- poor urban children stuck in crumbling, dysfunctional schools -- and their representatives, Education Law Center. In many ways the Abbott decisions, which focus on school funding equity, foreshadow the recent ruling of Vergara v. California, which focus on instructional equity. While Abbott is about decoupling school aid from each district’s available tax base, requiring the state to provide fiscal equity, Vergara is focused on equalizing access to effective educators.
(See, for example, my overview in today’s Newsworks.)
Twenty-four years ago, as if in some swirl of prognostication, Justice Wilentz stated clearly that money alone won’t lead to educational equity. Absent other reforms -- like those suggested in Vergara -- poor urban students will be consigned to inferior schools. Here’s a quote from Abbott II:
We note the convincing proofs in this record that funding alone will not achieve the constitutional mandate of an equal education in these poorer urban districts; that without educational reform, the money may accomplish nothing; and that in these districts, substantial, far-reaching change in education is absolutely essential to success. The proofs compellingly demonstrate that the traditional and prevailing educational programs in these poorer urban schools were not designed to meet and are not sufficiently addressing the pervasive array of problems that inhibit the education of poorer urban children. Unless a new approach is taken, these schools-even if adequately funded-will not provide a thorough and efficient education.
Labels: Abbott, Education Law Center, school funding, tenure