The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, July 14, 2006

Big news in education

The voucher debate is hitting the courts in New Jersey, where 12 parents, backed by groups such as the Alliance for School Choice and Excellent Education for Everyone, have filed a suit. It's the first of its kind, since the relief sought is not more resources for the system itself, but rather for the students to be able to attend other schools - public, private, sectarian or not - with the money that the state had allocated for them. In other words, assigning the money to the student and letting them decide where to spend it.

Win or lose, this could have huge ramifications - well worth watching.

The Alliance for School Choice's press release, in its entirety (as it's worth reading all of it):

PHOENIX — In a landmark case that could test the vitality of states’ constitutional guarantees of public education standards, the Alliance for School Choice today joined the New Jersey Black Ministers Alliance, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey and Excellent Education for Everyone in supporting parents filing a class action lawsuit. Seeking for the first time meaningful and immediate relief for New Jersey’s failure to provide essential basic education to thousands of its children, the lawsuit demands two remedies for children in failing schools.

“This is the first class action education case seeking a remedy not for the system, but for the kids. It is a milestone in the quest for educational opportunity,” declared Clint Bolick, president of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, the nation’s leading advocacy group for school choice programs for disadvantaged schoolchildren.

“A quality education is a civil right, and that is being denied to far too many of our children. While we continue to press to reform the public school, we cannot allow another child to lose the opportunity to a better and productive future,” said Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey. “The future waits for no one and neither must we wait. We take this action today not because we want to, but because we must. For far too many of our children it is already too late,” he added.

“The right to the education the constitution demands belongs to the students of this state, not those who run these schools who continue to demonstrate their inability to educate these same students. The denial of a constitutional right, a civil right, is a violation that demands immediate action, and an immediate remedy,” said Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey .

Like most state constitutions, New Jersey’s constitution guarantees a particular standard of public education—specifically, a “thorough and efficient” education. For 33 years, New Jersey courts have ordered massive funding increases and new programs to redress educational inequities in impoverished school districts. Unfortunately, thousands of children, both in and out of districts that received these court-ordered remedies, remain mired in abysmally poor-performing schools, in which fewer than half of the children tested demonstrate minimal proficiency in basic educational skills as determined by the state itself.

It is difficult to argue that the deficiencies are a result of lack of resources. The average per-pupil expenditure in each of the defendant school districts exceeds $10,000 — in many cases, closer to $20,000 — far above the national average.

Crawford v. Davy was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Newark, against State Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy and 30 more defendants. The case represents a class of more than 60,000 students in 96 failing schools in 25 districts . The lawsuit argues that the denial of basic educational opportunities violates the children’s right to a thorough and efficient education under the state constitution, and to equal protection of the laws under the state and federal constitutions.

It seeks two interrelated remedies: an end to district-based residential school assignments, in which children are forbidden to cross attendance zone lines to attend a different state-supported public school; and a pro rata share of public funds allocated for the child’s education, so that the family can secure a better education in another public or private school.

“The lives of far too many children are at stake here. This inaction cannot continue. I have four children, and in each one of them I see hope for my community, for this state, and for this country. Too many of our children are having their chance at a good future extinguished in schools that persistently fail them. It’s been happening for far too long, and this lawsuit aims to put an end to it,” said Van-Ness Crawford, father of three sons who, by reason of residency and financial circumstances, are forced to attend Malcolm X. Shabazz High School, where fewer than one in five students tested exhibit basic proficiency in mathematics.

Crawford is a national test case. Nearly four million children are in failing public schools throughout the United States. The vast majority of state constitutions contain educational guarantees similar to New Jersey’s, or their courts have interpreted them to create a fundamental right to education, or both. By establishing a state constitutional precedent that children are entitled to leave failing schools with the share of educational resources devoted to their education, this case could establish a precedent of national significance. A successful outcome in this case can provide a beacon of hope for children in failing schools across the nation.

“For too long, education litigation has been aimed at securing more money for failing schools, in the hope that the remedy would trickle down to the students. This lawsuit seeks a real remedy, so that kids can obtain a high-quality education when they need it — today,” Bolick said.

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