For better education outcomes: separate education from government

The New Jersey Supreme Court heard arguments on January 5th about the constitutionality of Governor Christie’s state aid cutbacks to the Abbott school districts this year.  The $1 billion dollar cut to all school districts included a 100% cut to some suburban school districts.  In short, the income tax, which is supposed to provide property tax relief to all homeowners, has become a tool to redistribute income from middle and upper income suburban individual and families to failed urban school districts throughout the state.

The long history of education litigation should be ended and a new paradigm should emerge that would provide a quality education to students, particularly in inner cities.  For more than three decades, the Education Law Center has asserted—and argued before the Supreme Court–that more state aid would improve the outcomes in urban school districts.  But on January 5th the state Board of Education released results of statewide standardized tests that reveal a widening of the “achievement gap” between inner city students and suburban youngsters.

According to the Star Ledger, “On that test, about 60 percent of black or African-American third-graders failed to achieve proficient scores, compared to 21.4 percent for Asian students and 31 percent for whites.”  So do these test results prove that the ELC is right, more money is needed to “close the achievement gap?”  Or, do the test results confirm what the critics of the Abbott decision have been asserting for decades, namely, that more money does not “buy” better education for inner city kids?

Whether these test results are indicative of the actual skill sets of inner city youngsters, they are troubling indeed.  After spending additional hundreds of billions of dollars on improving the education of inner city students, the question that should be asked is simple:  Why do we as a society tolerate so much failure at such an unbelievable high cost to taxpayers?

Like most ills in our society, we need to challenge the status quo, especially in education—where expensive and under performing schools in our state have been the focus of public policy initiatives and litigation for decades.  Common sense dictates we must have a dialog about an alternative to government education.  As long as Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the Education Law Center, the teachers’ union and the Supreme Court believe that the current public school “system” is the optimal way to teach children, taxpayers will be forced to pay for an expensive failed experiment—relying on government to educate inner city children.

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