Lecturer overviews history of funding for NJ public schools
Stan Karp, professor at Education?Law Center, explains ‘polarized’ debate on state funds among politicians
Nothing in the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal education opportunities for all — it is up to politicians on the state level to make decisions that will affect the molding of young minds.
A professor from the Education Law Center explained how decreasing funding for public schools in New Jersey has created a disparity in education quality across the state yesterday at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
Stan Karp told students the education funding debate has become polarized in recent years. Some believe education costs are too high, while others call for dramatic increases in public funding to make up for the economically disadvantaged districts.
“These competing visions of what public education should be are affecting every debate,” he said.
The debate can be traced back to 1973, when the Supreme Court decided on Rodriguez v. San Antonio, a case that covered inequality in the country’s education, with a ruling that ultimately sent the issue of funding back to the states for remedies.
Karp said this resulted in a funding system that does not rely on the federal government in New Jersey.
“The overwhelming amount of funding for schools [today] comes from local property and state sources,” he said.
The lack of federal funding is especially true in New Jersey, where Karp said only three of school budgets come from the federal government, a stark contrast to the 11 percent national average of federal funding to states.
Since New Jersey cannot rely on federal funding for education, the burden of school funding is placed on local municipalities through property taxes they accumulate, he said.
“Why are local property taxes so high? Because the state has determined that its 600 districts will fund its schools essentially locally,” Karp said.
This system creates an environment that harbors inequality between the districts because of different taxes from one municipality to the next, Karp said. While towns like Spring Lake once had funds from property taxes of up to $10.5 million per student, poorer towns like Paterson only had about $200,000 per student.
To combat the inequality, the Education Law Center filed the case Abbott v. Burke to the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1985, Karp said. The court sided with the center, maintaining that the state is required to provide poorer districts with equal funding and programs.
Karp said the 31 Abbott districts, which received extra funding for an entire decade, gradually improved over time, especially in the younger age groups.
“As a result [of the program], there are over 40,000 children now in high quality pre-K [classes],” he said.
Former Gov. Jon S. Corzine deemed the Abbott districts unsustainable in 2008 and decided to remove extra funding and programs by passing the New Jersey School Funding Reform Act, Karp said.
Corzine’s new funding system was based on claims that schools needed only $10,200 per student to reach educational goals, he said.
Although the Education Law Center went back to court to challenge this decision to bring back the Abbott program, Karp said the New Jersey Supreme Court accepted Corzine’s formula as the state’s new system of educational funding.
After the recession took effect, newly elected Gov. Chris Christie decided to remove a substantial portion of the funding for public schools, Karp said.
“[Christie] took about $500 million back from districts ... and then [in 2011] he cut the districts by almost $1 billion,” he said. “Some districts lost all of their state aid.”
Since 2010, the reform act for school funding has been underfunded by $3.6 billion, a fact Karp said is increasing education inequality today.
Stephanie Curenton, a professor in the Bloustein School, said the school has partnered with the Education Law Center to encourage policy discussions throughout the state and to improve current funding issues.
“Stan gave this lecture in my course last year and it was phenomenal. I opened it up for the school this year because everyone can benefit from it,” she said.
Adam Burke, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the lecture offered students a firsthand view of the history behind education issues tightly bound up in politics.
“You can read books as much as you want, but the best way to learn is to hear from people who ... have a good grasp of what they are talking about,” he said.