Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Paul Tractenberg

I have been involved in using law to equalize the educational opportunities of poor, mostly minority children continuously for almost 40 years. Much of my work has been in NJ on the Robinson v. Cahill and Abbott v. Burke cases. Although some who should know better have tended to ignore what we have accomplished (perhaps because there are so many long, complicated judicial opinions), or even to criticize the lengthy involvement of our state supreme court, I would gladly compare what we have accomplished to any other state. Where else has a state's highest court established as a constitutional imperative providing poor, educationally-disadvantaged urban children with an educational opportunity designed to equip them to compete with their advantaged suburban peers? Where else has a chief justice said straight out that, if we're serious about equalizing opportunities, we have to spend more on educationally-disadvantaged students than on the advantaged? Where else has that actually happened (spending in the so-called Abbott districts is far above the state average, on a par with the state's highest-spending districts, and above the spending levels of many wealthy, suburban districts)? If I seem to have an attitude about this, chalk it up to the fact that Abbott may be under siege from a liberal Democratic governor. We're back in the NJ Supreme Court on an application to freeze Abbott district funding and, to justify its application, the state has engaged in some unseemly and inaccurate bad-mouthing of what's been going on. By the time we meet at the symposium, we may know much more about how serious a threat to equalizing educational opportunities this constitutes.


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