In New Jersey, public school districts are funded primarily by local property taxes. This process began in the 1973 case San Antonio vs. Rodriguez, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a Texas school district was not favoring the ‘wealthy’ over the ‘poor’ by relying on individual taxpayers to bear the brunt of funding. Although the nation was seemingly appeased, New Jersey’s school districts continued to suffer.
That same year, the New Jersey Supreme Court would make its stance clear on the inefficiency of its public school funding system in a series of civil lawsuits called Robinson v. Cahill. The apparent need to close the long-standing quality gap between poor schools and wealthy ones came from the funding system which many thought to favor wealthy districts. This reform effort continued under the guise of Abbott v. Burke, the notorious NJ Supreme court cases that revealed the stark gap in education quality between poor and wealthy districts. The solution proposed in the Abbott decisions was a multi-faceted approach to ensure parity among school districts. The approach was centered on increasing state aid in order to build the capacity of students in lower economic classes. The legislature believed that those disadvantaged students could indeed receive “a thorough and efficient education” if simply given the opportunity. The main idea then was to give the disadvantaged a leg up in any way possible, allowing the poor to achieve at the same level as the wealthier students.
Now, there are 31 “high-need urban districts” http://www.edlawcenter.org/cases/abbott-v-burke/abbott-history.html known as Abbott districts that are designated as such for extraordinarily “low student achievement” and “concentrated poverty.” http://www.state.nj.us/education/archive/abbotts/regs/criteria/criteria2.htm The Abbott decisions have proven that certain poor urban communities could not improve their own education systems, therefore they warranted aid and support.
However, current debates take issue with how effective this assistance truly is. While some continue to argue that urban school districts would fail without state aid, as federal funding is nearly unavailable in New Jersey, others have shown that even with more support to the poor, the “achievement gap…persists.” http://www.nj.gov/education/stateaid/1213/report.pdf
There may be other factors in the Trenton area itself such as crime and poverty causing the school system to not be very good, as it has been for a while. As a result of this, teachers face many difficulties in the classroom and in an urban setting like this there is a more of a chance of teachers leaving or being laid off.
It costs Trenton $11,000 to $12,000 to fund a single student anywhere from a kindergartner to a high school senior. For the 2012-2013 school year Trenton has received $226,927,752 in total aid for K-12 schools. Trenton has released a list of suggested budget cuts such as ask the teacher’s union for a pay decrease, eliminate all bus service, and make athletics fully pay to play. Would these changes be able to make enough of an impact, short or long term? Are there bigger problems in Trenton that need to be fixed first to help the school system? Teachers could be pressured by the lower than average test scores that the Trenton schools have as an Abbott school district, but they face unfair situations and losing them is not helping to create a stable system. Trenton should re-evaluate the budget by comparing its school system to the rest of New Jersey to find a way to improve.
While various problems to this issue are debated, there are also solutions being discusses. Some have considered the benefits to funding programs which help encourage students through programs such as the talented and gifted program. (http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2013/03/trenton_school_district_plans_2.html) Plans to revise this could alter the dynamics of pursuing higher education in Trenton. However with recent budget cuts, it is important to consider the importance of funding such programs. In order to discuss possible solutions for the flaws in school funding, specifically in Trenton, it is also important to know where the funding for these school is exactly going. (http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2013/03/trenton_groups_to_lobby_for_st.html) In this article, concerns about the lack of useful spending are expressed. Schools are allotted money each year, but in this case $13.3 million was allotted for 18 different repair projects. No progress on the construction was seen.
Trenton schools receive more funding than many other districts in the state. Abbott schools are seen as one of the solutions to the problem. “As a result [of the program], there are over 40,000 children now in high quality pre-K [classes],” Stan Karp, professor at Education Law Center was quoted in the Daily Targum. As funding is cut across the board, schools are left with fewer options. Some believe these districts, like Trenton, are in more need of funding, while others believe the money is not being properly used. (http://www.solutionsfornewjersey.org/?p=871)