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

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

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

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

Synopsis

"In 1981, when Raymond Abbott was a twelve-year-old sixth-grader in Camden, New Jersey, poor city school districts like his spent 25 percent less per student than the state's wealthy suburbs did. That year, Abbott became the lead plaintiff in a landmark class-action lawsuit demanding that the state provide equal funding for rich and poor schools. Over the next twenty-five years, as the non-profit law firm representing the plaintiffs won ruling after ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court, Abbott dropped out of school, fought a cocaine addiction, and spent time in prison before turning his life around. Raymond Abbott's is just one of the many human stories that have too often been forgotten in the policy battles New Jersey has waged for two generations over equal funding for rich and poor schools. Other People's Children, the first book to tell the story of this decades-long school funding battle, interweaves the public story - an account of legal and political wrangling over laws and money - with the private stories of the inner-city children who were named plaintiffs in the state's two school funding lawsuits, Robinson v. Cahill and Abbott v. Burke. Although these cases have shaped New Jersey's fiscal and political landscape since the 1970s, most recently in legislative arguments over tax reform, the debate has often been too abstract and technical for most citizens to understand. Written in an accessible style and based on dozens of interviews with lawyers, politicians, and the plaintiffs themselves, Other People's Children crystallizes the arguments and clarifies the issues for general readers."

Excerpt

In 1975, a dentist living in an affluent New Jersey suburb told a newspaper why he opposed using an income tax to fund inner-city public schools. in the process, he unwittingly summed up the clash between self-interest and the claims of community that was to undergird school-finance battles in New Jersey and the nation for decades to come. “You can’t expect people who worked very hard to make a little money to pay for other people’s children,” the dentist told the reporter. “That’s why we moved here—to maintain good schools for our children. Look, I’m already paying for three kids, and now you want me to pay more for somebody else’s? Possibly this is being selfish, but I don’t think so.”

That suburban professional could acquit himself of selfishness because, from one perspective, his words expressed nothing but the bedrock promise of the American meritocracy: upward mobility for the hardworking and the self-reliant, no matter their race or class. We call that promise the American Dream, and even those who regard it as little more than a hoax—a dream indeed—see it as a fundamental tenet of our national faith. We do not view the ambition to move up, and to take our families with us, as selfish. That drive, we like to say, is part and parcel of our energetic, individualistic national character. in particular, we view the desire to improve our children’s lives as the reverse of selfish; we see it as altruistic, and, of course, sometimes it is. Nevertheless, the dentist’s words also expose the American Dream’s oft-noted dark side. When success is defined as the earned reward of hard work, we need feel no responsibility for those who are left behind, or for their children. Indeed, if we count the . . .

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