Law professor Paul Tractenberg gets a F on the constitution

03 Apr

Rutgers University law professor Paul Tractenberg argues in an op-ed (The Record, “Constitutional showdown,” April 3) that the Christie administration violated the constitutional rights of New Jersey’s public education students when it cut aid to school districts this year.

Professor Tractenberg begins his essay by making the same egregious statement others have been making for decades, namely that the New Jersey constitution requires the state to provide a “thorough and efficient education.”   The state constitution, for the umpteenth time, states:  The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.

In short, the state has fulfilled its commitment to the students of New Jersey by providing the following “education system”:  there is a Core Curriculum, state licensed teachers and administrators staff the school, and the state provides aid to local districts.   In addition, in the case of urban districts the state provides as much as $25,000 in aid per student, well above of what it sends to any suburban district.

As far as the amount of state aid that flows to local school districts, the state constitution is quite clear: No tax shall be levied on personal incomes of individuals, estates and trusts of this State unless the entire net receipts therefrom shall be received into the treasury, placed in a perpetual fund designated the Property Tax Relief Fund and be annually appropriated, pursuant to formulas established from time to time by the Legislature, to the several counties, municipalities and school districts of this State exclusively for the purpose of reducing or offsetting property taxes…. (emphasis added).

Again, the constitution vests the power in the Legislature to allocate state aid to schools, counties and municipalities.   The separation of powers is clear: the Supreme Court has no authority to order the Legislature or the governor to spend one dime on state aid.  (Therefore the Education Law Center should be suing the Legislature, not the Christie administration for more state aid.)

Moreover, Professor Tractenberg congratulates Judge Doyne’s decision, which asserts the Christie administration violated the state constitution by cutting school aid this year.  Judge Doyne is the special master appointed by the Supreme Court to hear the case brought by the Education Law Center on behalf of urban schoolchildren and others who it claims are being “underfunded” by the state.

Tractenberg is founder and was first director of the Education Law Center.  He, therefore, is not exactly an objective and uninterested party to the debate over state aid for schools.

The debate over education funding will not be resolved until we separate education from the state.  Although this may sound like a “radical” proposal, the evidence is overwhelming; expecting politicians or the courts to shape and deliver quality education to students is a chimera.  Yes, suburban students are for the most part receiving a relatively high quality education; students in urban areas are failing at an alarming rate.

What is the solution?  Turn over public schools to teachers, administrators and parents in New Jersey’s cities, and the suburbs as well.  Amend the constitution removing the through and efficient school system wording, thus ending the state’s role in education.  Phase out state aid—and the income tax–over three to five years.   Suburban and urban parents will be responsible for funding their children’s education.  Other interested parties will subsidize the cost of education.  Public opinion polls reveal that New Jerseyans support “public education.”  Now they will have the opportunity to show how much they really support their local schools.

If opponents of this proposal cry foul, let them answer the following questions:  Should people of color be responsible for educating their children?   Are people of color capable of self government?   Why should suburban taxpayers pay for their local schools and urban schools?  Why do we think that big, expensive schools in urban districts, contrary evidence notwithstanding, are the magic bullet to educate children?

When interested parties in the debate of education funding are willing to discuss the role of the state, then we will make some progress in resolving the miserable educational outcomes in urban areas and the unconscionable amount of taxpayers’ dollars that have been used to fund a failed experiment for decades.   The shameless justifications used by Professor Tractenberg, the courts, politicians, editorial writers and others about the state’s role in education reveal how far we have traveled on the collectivist road.


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