Other People's Children: The Battle for Justice and Equality in New Jersey's Schools

By Deborah Yaffe | Go to book overview

7
The Twenty-One/Forty-One Rule

Through eight long years, Abbott v. Burke had been dismissed, appealed, rerouted, delayed, heard, decided, and appealed again; the Education Law Center had kept its slippery grip on financial viability; and Marilyn Morheuser had weathered cancer, accident, and crushing disappointment. By the fall of 1989, as Morheuser prepared for arguments before the state supreme court, no one, not even the state’s lawyers, expected her to lose. In the supreme courts of Montana and Kentucky, school-funding plaintiffs had just won resounding victories, the first signs that the tide of litigation was turning nationwide. The press saw New Jersey as a bellwether: one of the first states to face a 1970s court challenge to its schoolfinance system, it was now the first state back in court defending a funding formula adopted in response to a previous lawsuit. The ELC team that had tried the Abbott case before Judge Steven Lefelt had split up, but for the next stage, Morheuser had recruited an old ally—Steve Block, the researcher who had left ELC years earlier to tackle political reform in Hoboken. After that effort ended disappointingly, Block had spent a frustrating three years working for the state Education Department, and he welcomed Morheuser’s invitation back to the Abbott fight. Each day, he picked Morheuser up at her apartment, and on the drive to the office, the two veterans of the ‘60s gossiped about Block’s young son or Morheuser’s beloved New York Knicks. At work, Block pored over the voluminous transcripts of the administrative hearing, extracting nuggets that bolstered ELC’s arguments. Block sometimes felt the sting of Morheuser’s

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