New Jersey public schools are broken.
Want to talk about fiscal inefficiency in a state that’s going broke? We spend more per student on education — $14,630 – than any state but New York.
Why? For starters, our history of home rule has rendered our 603 school districts massively inefficient, yet the last time there was any consolidation was in 1952 when Vineland Boro and Landis Township merged to form the city of Vineland. State government has tried to rein in this monster through recent legislation but these new statutes only increase costs without preventing fiscal accountability.
Want to talk about educational inequity? The Abbott decisions, intended to reverse inequities inherent in a funding system dependent on property taxes, have created a powerful imbalance: 23 percent of New Jersey’s 1.45 million public students receive 58 percent of state dollars.
Want to talk about substandard curriculum and instruction? Okay, we’ve got the federal No Child Left Behind legislation to use as a whipping boy, as it punishes districts that attempt any sort of creativity or focus on anyone but the lowest performing kids. But we’re not off the hook: the engine driving school curricula is solely powered by flawed State assessments and definitions of “pass” and “fail” (oops! Excuse me – “proficient” and “partially proficient”) that change like the tides off Cape May.
Want to talk about hamstrung administrators and school boards? The powerful New Jersey Education Association has bitch-slapped districts into granting lifetime tenure to teachers after three years while fighting performance incentives or differentiated pay.
Here’s an example of our problems. Last month’s Hunterdon County Democrat details a story of two school districts deep in serious negotiation to share services, consolidate offices, and merge various functions. One of the districts, Delaware County School, has 490 students. Stockton, the other district, has a total of 37 kids, grades kindergarten through 6th grade. Yet this district, one of 603 in New Jersey, has its own school board, its own superintendent (whose salary comprises one sixth of the district’s total budget), its own building. (To be fair, the two districts do share a single business administrator who makes over $100K a year.) The mind swoons at the fiscal and educational inefficiencies. The victims are the children and the taxpayers.