The Children Grow Up
By the early twenty-first century, New Jersey had spent two generations wrestling with the question of equal educational opportunity, but that titanic legal and political struggle had barely touched the lives of the twenty children who were named plaintiffs in Abbott v. Burke. By the time the state supreme court invalidated Governor Jim Florio’s QEA in the 1994 Abbott III decision, all the plaintiff children had left New Jersey’s public schools. Until a newspaper sought them out soon after the 1997 Abbott IV decision, none but Ray Abbott had ever been the subject of a press account; some had never even known they were involved in the case, however peripherally. Growing up is hard work under the best of circumstances, and few of the Abbott children had enjoyed that ideal. Some had suffered early deprivation, at home and in school; some had gotten little adult guidance as they looked ahead to life after graduation. And as they would readily admit years later, some had compounded the damage with shortsighted, self-destructive choices. Nevertheless, their stories bore witness to the indomitable spirit of their parents, to the extraordinary resilience of children, and to the human capacity for growth.
Ray Abbott was paroled at the end of 1997, halfway through his eight-year sentence. Jean had stuck by him, bringing their baby daughter on prison visits, and the summer before his release, they were married. In prison, Ray had finally discovered the motivation he had lacked before: eager to