Former Ramsey Mayor Richard Muti asserts in The Record that Gov. Christie’s “fairness formula” for state education aid to local school districts would result in “chaos”. Mr. Muti bases his conclusion on the premise that so-called children in poor districts have “substantial needs” that cannot be supported by local property taxes. Thus, he concludes, the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1990 Abbott v. Burke decision that created the aid formula that has funneled tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to primarily urban school districts was correct, because it provided a “thorough and efficient” education that the state constitution requires.
However, Mr. Muti, also writes the following: “The ruling was unanimous — all seven justices concurred, Republicans and Democrats alike. They acknowledged that equal funding alone would not cure the problem of failing schools in urban districts. (emphasis added) ‘We realize our remedy here may fail to achieve the constitutional object,’ Chief Justice Robert Wilentz wrote. ‘No amount of money may be able to erase the impact of the socioeconomic factors that define and cause these pupils’ disadvantages. We realize that perhaps nothing short of substantial social and economic change affecting housing, employment, child care, taxation, welfare will make the difference for these students; and that this kind of change is far beyond the power or responsibility of school districts.’ “ (emphasis added)
By its own admission, the Court made a “sociological – political” decision, not one based on sound legal principles. Moreover, “equal spending” that the court ordered has been turned on its head. Asbury Park spends more than $33,000 per pupil, and receives nearly $29,000 per pupil in state aid, while Cherry Hill spends almost $18,000 per pupil and receives slightly less than $3,000 in state aid for each public school student. In other words Asbury Park receives 10 times per state aid per pupil than Cherry Hill. The discrepancy in state aid not only is beyond the pale but Asbury Park only has a 66% graduation rate compared with 94% in Cherry Hill. The Supreme Court was correct; money is not providing educational success in the so-called Abbott school districts.
Instead of debating back and forth the proper aid formula for local school districts, the public, legislators and policy wonks should focus their energies on evaluating the whole premise of government schools.
Instead of debating which education funding law is constitutionally sound and compatible with the states constitution “thorough and efficient” clause, we should embrace the insight of Frederick Bastiat in his classic monograph, The Law, where he wrote the following about education and the state.
“You say, “There are men who want knowledge,” and
you apply to the law. But the law is not a torch that sheds
light that originates within itself. It extends over a society
where there are men who have knowledge, and others
who have not; citizens who want to learn, and others who
are disposed to teach. It can only do one of two things:
either allow a free operation to this kind of transaction,
i.e., let this kind of want satisfy itself freely; or else preempt
the will of the people in the matter, and take from
some of them sufficient to pay professors commissioned
to instruct others for free. But, in this second case there
cannot fail to be a violation of liberty and property—legal
Bastiat wrote passionately about the structure of a free society. He combined the insights of sociology, economics, politics, and philosophy to describe what the law would be in a free society. Education, an important element of human development, is the responsibility of parents, not the state. Until this paradigm becomes one of the components of our society, the conflict over education spending and “fairness formulas” will be endlessly debated.
Gov. Christie fired the first shot in this continuous and contentious – and needless – argument over how to distribute money extracted from taxpayers. The next “battleground,” which the two sides in the education state aid formula must address is why the state and local governments have socialized education. This debate is long overdue and when cooler heads on both sides of the current debate take a timeout, we will finally address one of the most important issues in the country, how we can desocialize education, which in the final analysis will increase educational opportunities for all children and provide the much-needed tax relief for taxpayers throughout the state.