New Jersey Citizen Action is committed to working to ensure every child in New Jersey has access to quality education. Our kids deserve at least as good, if not better opportunities than we’ve had. And we know many of our schools are facing real problems that affect the quality of education, whether it is adequate funding or social problems like drugs and violence in our schools and/or a lack of adequate services in our communities. These are not just problems in our own neighborhoods, but a nationwide issue.
For years, New Jersey had inadequate funding for urban schools because of our heavy reliance on property taxes to fund education. After numerous court decisions, addressing the discrepancy of education quality between urban and suburban districts, Abbott districts were created. Starting in 1997 Abbott Districts began to receive funding equal to suburban districts. In 1998 the NJ Supreme Court ordered reform programs in Abbott Districts, including: whole school reform, full-day kindergarten and preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, and a comprehensive state managed and funded facilities program to correct code violations, to eliminate overcrowding, and to provide adequate space for all educational programs in the Abbott schools. Other supplemental programs are also required such as health and social services, increased security, technology alternative education, school-to-work, after-school and summer-school programs. This was done to make up for years of neglect, which resulted from years of inadequate funding.
We are starting to see many of the benefits that have come from these reforms in our urban schools, but we still have many challenges to overcome. The clearest indicator of success in Abbott Districts is the dramatic increases in 4th grade math and language arts test scores. This is due to the focus on early education programs such as universal preschool and teacher tutors for children who are below reading levels for their grade. This clearly shows that adequate funding used in a thoughtful manner will ensure all of our children are receiving a quality education.
There are many examples of school vouchers, but they all have one thing in common. They take public money (tax dollars) away from our public schools and transfer it to private schools, including schools that are for-profit businesses.
Those in favor of school vouchers believe that by having more kids in private schools it will force public schools to compete with them and therefore improve the quality of education for everyone. Vouchers are consistent with an overall radical philosophy that the market place should be used to provide for our social needs and solve our social problems.
In reality vouchers only help to send a very small number of kids to private schools and ignore the real problems facing our schools and our communities. They reduce or eliminate accountability for how our tax dollars are spent, not only allow but promote discrimination and take tax payers money away from programs that can help improve our communities and public schools.
A study of the National Assessment of Academic Progress, which is considered the best data available on school performance, found public schools are outperforming private and charter schools when you control for demographic differences among students. Conservative Christian schools scored the worst among private schools, which is of particular concern because they are the fastest growing segment of schools.
A bill in the New Jersey Legislature A–257, being pushed by Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), creates a backdoor school voucher program, and will also drain $360 million from New Jersey’s Treasury by giving tax credits to corporations. This school voucher program will actually give vouchers to less than 5% of the children in Abbott Districts and leave tens of thousands of children with fewer resources than their counterparts here in New Jersey. Furthermore the Department of Education will be responsible for promoting the voucher program. This will result in additional state money funding voucher programs instead of going into real reforms.
Standards and Services
While being presented as a civil rights issue by voucher proponents, we know from areas that have enacted such programs, vouchers lower education standards in urban areas. To highlight the lack of accountability, one Milwaukee school was showing videos instead of hiring teachers. Although this is may not be the norm at every Milwaukee voucher school, it is an example of what can happen in schools where there is no oversight and/or standards.
Another area of concern is, virtually no private schools have services for bilingual students, programs for the disabled, or vocational programs. New Jersey Abbott schools are required to provide tutoring for students who are having trouble reading and to provide accommodations for students with disabilities.
Public school teachers also have higher levels of education than private school teachers. Where only 1/3 of private school teachers hold advanced degrees; 1/2 of public school teachers have advanced degrees. Private schools are also not required to hire state certified teachers, and can legally hire teachers without any college education. All public school teachers are required to have a minimum of a college education. To be considered highly qualified a teacher must have a degree in the areas they are teaching and a state certification. 94% of Newark high school teachers are highly qualified in every subject they teach. This is in stark contrast to private schools, which can hire teachers who only have a high school diploma.
Cutting corners is not the same as saving money. By discriminating against children with disabilities and special needs, private schools are able to provide education for a much lower cost per student. Competition leaves public schools to provide programs for special needs student with fewer resources. Voucher programs drain money from public schools and make it difficult for them to provide an education to their students.
The Milwaukee voucher program cost $80 million in the 2004–2005 school year. In order to make up the difference in funding shortfalls in public schools, property taxes had to be raised. New Jersey’s voucher program, being promoted by Excellent Education for Everyone, will cost New Jersey $360 million.
In short, voucher programs drain money from public schools and make it difficult for public schools to provide an education to their students. These shortfalls leave tax payers to foot the bill or face cuts in public education programs.
Educational reforms are the framework our schools use to provide education. By encouraging schools to adopt these educational reforms we will ensure the highest quality education for our children.
Small Class Sizes
Small classes engage students more and discourage disruptive behavior. Tennessee, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and California all created programs to reduce class sizes to below 20 students per class in grades k-3 and student achievement rose significantly.
Students do best when small class sizes are implemented in Kindergarten third grade and beyond. Class size reduction programs have the largest impact when they are implemented in minority and urban communities.
Family and Community Support
Students whose families are involved with their education tend to have fewer behavior problems in school, fewer absences, and get better grades. Being involved in a child’s education can be difficult for single parents and parents who work several jobs to keep up with bills. By creating community-based schools we can help bridge the gaps in parenting. Thanks to Abbot Funding almost 80% of eligible children in Newark are enrolled in high quality pre-school programs. These programs create stronger parent child relationships and support parents who need to work longer hours to make ends meet.
Each community has its own needs and programs can be created to help meet these needs. Many schools have sought to bring social service providers together with schools to create "full-service schools." These projects are commonly associated with improved attendance, lower drug use, and higher graduation rates.
Teachers are the core of a school and without quality teachers we will not have quality schools. Teacher training can be gained by earning degrees, attending workshops and professional development provided by schools. This training needs to be ongoing and should be focused on teacher needs at individual schools. For instance, if there is a discipline problem in a school, additional teacher training on classroom management will help to remedy the problems.
We also know teachers with more experience tend to have higher student achievement than new teachers. Teachers with advanced degrees are helpful to increasing student performance, particularly when the degree is in the subject area being taught.
Abbott Indicator Reports have been compiled by the Education Law Center, the law firm that has fought to establish Abbott and ensure the state is meeting requirements to provide a thorough and efficient education for every child. These reports show where Abbott is since funding parity was established in 1997, local planning for state financed school facilities was established in 1998 and whole school reform programs were established in 1999.
These reports show both successes and areas that need improvement in New Jersey’s Abbott Districts. It is to be expected an endeavor of this magnitude would create challenges that need to be overcome. It is essential that education reformers, school officials, concerned citizens and politicians read and understand the information provided in these reports, and use this information to ensuring we have quality education for every child. Download the reports:
- Camden Abbott Indicator Report
- Newark Abbott Indicator Report
- Trenton Abbott Indicator Report
- Union City Abbott Indicator Report
- 2005-2006 Abbott Indicator Report (PDF download)