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4-16-06 Star Ledger editorial & article re Gov v. Abbott from 4-15-06
It's time to rethink Abbott...Editorial Sunday, April 16, 2006... "The two topics most likely to rile civic-minded New Jerseyans are property taxes and Abbott schools. It is becoming more difficult for those who support statewide funding for impoverished schools, including this newspaper, to keep the two issues from becoming one contentious discussion." 4-8-06 Court to hear Abbott case..."With state dollars only growing tighter, the battle over how to pay for the landmark Abbott vs. Burke school equity ruling is headed back to the state's highest court."

It's time to rethink Abbott

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The two topics most likely to rile civic-minded New Jerseyans are property taxes and Abbott schools. It is becoming more difficult for those who support statewide funding for impoverished schools, including this newspaper, to keep the two issues from becoming one contentious discussion.

School aid certainly will become the eye of an economic maelstrom if the state, particularly the Department of Education and the municipalities that are home to Abbott school districts don't institute reforms.

The state must take responsibility for spending Abbott money in a way that accomplishes the goal of educating children. Municipalities must plan for a day when there won't be as much Abbott money.

State aid to 31 impoverished school districts is based on the so-called Abbott ruling by the state Supreme Court that held that the New Jersey Constitution's requirement of a "thorough and efficient" education for all kids meant there should be financial parity between the poorest and richest school districts.

Gov. Jon Corzine recently asked that court for permission to hold flat some aid in the next state budget. Abbott districts get $4.2 billion of the $7.3 billion in state aid to 600 school districts.

His administration also has told eight Abbott towns they can afford to increase property taxes so they can contribute more to their schools.

Some will scream this is unfair. Not all will be justified. In Newark, for example, $210 million is being spent to build a downtown arena, while the city offers property owners tax rebates. Newark also gets nearly $700 million a year in state school aid. Is it so unfair to ask the city to kick in more for its schools? No.

Newark, Jersey City, Paterson and Camden combined serve 40 percent of all Abbott children. Corzine is promising detailed audits of those districts and the implication is that the money is not being well-spent and the academic results should be better. He may be right.

But three of those districts have been under complete state control for years and the state is heavily involved in the administration of the fourth, Camden. Whatever is wrong with them, the state has to take responsibility for it.

There are more than 250,000 kids in the Abbott districts and all too many fail to pass basic academic assessments. New Jersey's economic engine will always drag if it is weighed down by such a large proportion of poorly educated citizens.

Even so, those who advocate for that help cannot expect things to go on forever as they have, especially as the clamor builds for a constitutional convention as a way to effect property tax relief.

The loudest shouts come from those who want to reach into the constitution to claw out the sentence about a thorough and efficient education, the legal basis for the Abbott ruling.

It will be very difficult to prevent that from happening if the present situation is allowed to continue.

 

Court to hear Abbott case

Saturday, April 08, 2006

BY JOHN MOONEY

Star-Ledger Staff

With state dollars only growing tighter, the battle over how to pay for the landmark Abbott vs. Burke school equity ruling is headed back to the state's highest court.

Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday said his administration would seek approval from the state Supreme Court to freeze overall funding to the 31 Abbott districts, as he has proposed to do for all school districts under his $30.9 billion proposed budget.

The move had been expected, as the 31 districts -- including Newark, New Brunswick, Perth Amboy and Elizabeth -- are protected under the Abbott order that has brought them hundreds of millions of additional dollars for extra programs each year.

"New Jersey can no longer afford the open-ended process of annual supplemental requests that have led to the extraordinary growth in Abbott district spending, especially when we lack proof that the supplemental programs are working," said the application filed yesterday with the court.

The governor's budget would provide more than $4 billion to the Abbott districts for K-12 programs, which is more than a third of all state aid to public schools. But while most districts statewide have seen little or no additional aid for the last five years, this is the first time the Abbott money would be held steady since the 1998 ruling.

In addition, the Corzine administration has demanded a handful of Abbott districts with relatively low municipal tax rates to start sharing in some of the costs.

Advocates and Abbott school officials were told of the impending court filing this week, and they criticized Corzine last night for seeking to roll back Abbott programs that they said were starting to bring gains in student performance.

Districts had sought 4 percent to 6 percent increases to maintain programs now in place, they said.

"In this application, the governor is asking for permission to significantly cut programs and services for the poorest students in the state," said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which first brought the Abbott suit.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828