Sunday, June 26, 2016

School Funding: Is it "Fair"?

Last week the governor of New Jersey proposed a new formula for school funding to make it "fair." (I  have to admit that as much as I enjoy watching his rants on youtube, I've never been a big fan of this particular politician, mostly because of his unsuccessful attempt to give away Rutgers/Camden. But that's another story.) Anyway, under the proposed new plan all school districts would receive the exact same amount of funding per student. Behind this change is the idea of lowering real estate taxes, which are incredibly high in that state. You can read more about the school funding proposal here:

On the surface this may seem like a good idea. Fair means equal, right? That might make sense if all else in the lives of school children were equal, but of course, it is not.  Because of our past and current policies and practices that limit opportunities for some and privilege others, the lives of children across our country are certainly not equal. Yes, I know -- personal choice of parents and family members matters, too, but that doesn't change the fact that poverty has devastating effects on children. Let me say that again. Poverty has devastating effects on children.

Here's another example of how something that seems "fair" is a bad idea. We recently read in our local newspaper that our local taxes will be going up -- again. Why? The school district is building a new early learning center and elementary school. It's tempting to think - Wow, why should we be forced to pay for it? Our kids are older now and they won't reap the benefits of the new school. Why should we have to pay more taxes? It's not fair. Following that line of thinking, why should people who have no children, or people who send their children to private school have to support the public school system with their taxes?

I guess we have to ask ourselves, are we a nation that believes in free, public education, or do we want to go back to the days when only the affluent were educated? The answer is obvious - an educated population creates a healthier, more productive society and benefits us all.

Back to the new funding proposal. The proponent of the plan was quick to explain that children receiving special education services would not be affected. Their current level of funding would remain secure. So, there seems to be an understanding that children with special needs require extra support. Ironically, there's a saying in the world of special education -- "Fair means giving each person what he or she needs." In other words, "fair" does not mean "equal." Equality is not the same as equity. Check out the picture below for a visual of how this works:

Now, is it possible that money dedicated to poor districts is not being spent wisely? Yes. Perhaps we need to look more closely at initiatives like the Harlem Children's Zone for some answers. Poor children need support within the school and within the community at large. Is it also true that middle class people need tax relief? Yes. But across the board cutting of funds dedicated to poor school districts is not the answer. And doing so in the name of "fairness" is, well, just wrong.

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