Abbott & Costello
November 19, 2008
Here's a travesty: the perpetuation of the notorious funding adequacy case Abbott v. Burke. On Monday, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided 5-0 to, in effect, not decide, again, on the fate of this 27-year long effort to enhance the budgets of 31 poor and low performing districts in the Garden State. The 31 were designated "Abbott districts" when the Court forced the state to readjust its education dollars so that they'd get more state money--over 50 percent of state education aid, in fact. (The 2008-2009 budget clocks that figure in at a whopping $4.1 billion. By comparison, K-12 state aid for the whole state-i.e. all 616 districts--is just $7.8 billion.) The idea was to use state funds to equalize per-pupil funding between these districts and their wealthier neighbors. But since that time, demographics within state have shifted, impoverishing some districts while enriching others, making the Abbott system anachronistic. Last winter, Governor Jon Corzine proposed, and the legislature passed, a new formula for doling out these monies to address this problem: the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). It would tie dollars to the neediest students rather than districts, and in effect reverse the Abbott designation. Unfortunately, those in black robes have decided that the governor will now have to prove that his new formula is "constitutionally adequate" before a court-appointed "special master." Meanwhile, the Abbott districts remain. Robert Holster, superintendent of Passaic, which is one of them, had it exactly right when he commented that, "Abbott is still breathing. It may be an iron lung, but it's still pumping away." Iron lung, indeed.
"Court rejects Corzine's bid to end N.J. school cases," by Dunstan McNichol, The Star-Ledger, November 18, 2008
"Justices block bid to change Abbott funding," by Dunstan McNichol and John Mooney, The Star-Ledger, November 19, 2008