June 26, 2019 | 72° F

EDITORIAL: Fairness Formula doesn’t live up to name

Governor’s education reforms threaten quality of public schools


Do you remember when a teacher asked Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), “Why do you continue to spread the myth that our schools and teachers are failing?”

With the etiquette and elegance we expect from him, Christie vigorously wagged his finger to her face and shouted, “Because they are! I’m tired of you people. What do you want?”

Ever since this heated encounter in 2013, Christie has been known for a strongman style and animosity against the New Jersey public education system. Soon afterward, the teacher who he publicly berated wrote him an open letter: "What do ‘we people’ want, Governor Christie? We want our schools back. We want to teach. We want to be allowed to help these children to grow, educationally, socially and emotionally. We want to be respected as we do this, not bullied.”

But we see that in 2016, three years later, the bullying continues. During a speech to Hillsborough High School, Christie introduced the “Fairness Formula,” which would provide $6,599 per student for each district, reduce aid to urban districts and lower property taxes in many suburban towns. In a wealthier town, for example, education funding would increase by 86 percent under Christie’s plan. But in a high-poverty city, funding would decrease by 69 percent.

The current funding formula was implemented after 1990 when New Jersey’s Supreme Court in Abbott v. Burke ruled that the funding formula at the time betrayed the “state’s constitution of promise of providing a thorough and efficient” for all by sending more money to affluent suburban schools with high property values and less toward urban schools with low property values. So to rectify this issue, the court mandated supplemental funding for the state’s 31 poorest districts, such as Trenton, Jersey City, Newark and Camden.

New Jersey provides about $9.1 billion to directly support school districts using a weighted formula that provides more per-pupil funding for special education students, students from low-income families and those learning English as their second language. As a result, $5.1 billion goes to 31 school districts, while the remaining $4 billion is given to the rest of the 546 districts. Admittedly, it is a highly skewed formula toward a handful of cities and the rest of the funding of left for the majority of the state’s other towns and cities.

However, think of it this way: Funding is one big pizza pie. Right now a big part of the pizza is given to people who barely had barely eaten for years and a small portion of the pizza pie is given to people who are full, having already eaten, and only need a nibble. Those who are starving are emaciated by the lack of support systems, from educational opportunities to family assistance, and those who are full are the ones who come from wealthier backgrounds and have ample resources and opportunities to their disposal.

Christie’s plan proposes that those who are malnourished get half of the pie and those who are full also get half the pie. Portions of the pie are given to people who don’t need it and are taken away from those who do need it.

Back in 2013, school districts faced at least $1 billion in budget cuts during the reign of the Christie administration, so the question posed to Christie back then was quite valid — why is the myth spread that our schools and teachers are failing being perpetuated?

Despite New Jersey’s public school system’s flaws, standardized test scores show that it’s done extremely well — New Jersey teachers are working hard and doing their jobs, despite being pinched by budget cuts. In addition, New Jersey ranks as one of the top two states in the nation in academic performance, adjusted for student demographics, which means that poor children in this state outperform poor children in every state except Massachusetts, likely due to the funding they receive.

New Jersey’s public schools are exceptional, but Christie’s eroding their capacity to function.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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