Governor Announces New Collaborative Approach to Implementing Court-Ordered Urban
In a major development in New Jersey's longstanding Abbott
v. Burke education reform litigation, the new governor, James McGreevey, recently
announced a plan to end the lawsuit and institute a collaborative process between
the state, educators, and advocates to finally comply with the state Supreme Court's
decisions in Abbott.
The court, in seven separate rulings since
1981, has ordered the State of New Jersey to provide students in the state's 30
mostly urban, high-need school districts with educational opportunities equal
to their peers in the wealthier suburbs. The Governor's decision to fully comply
with the court's rulings breaks the adversarial stance the State has assumed since
the initiation of New Jersey's original education finance case, Robinson v.
Cahill, in the early 1970's.
On February 19, 2002, Governor McGreevey
signed an executive order creating the Abbott Implementation and Compliance Coordinating
Council, a cooperative board that will be held accountable for implementing the
reforms called for by the court. In addition to six top state officials, the Council
will include David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center,
the organization that has led the Abbott lawsuit against the State of New
Jersey on behalf of the state's urban students for the past twenty years.
Jersey has a moral and legal obligation to ensure that every child can achieve
the fullness of his or her promise," McGreevey said. The Governor added that
the council "creates a mechanism to provide for accountability, collaboration
and cooperation among all the stakeholders" and "will be a critical
engine that provides New Jersey's children with an educational system that is
accountable and prepares them for productive citizenry."
New Jersey's urban students have the right to an education based on the State's
Core Curriculum Content Standards, operational school funding at the level of
successful suburban school districts, pre-school and other supplemental programs
to address disadvantages, and educationally adequate school facilities.
Sciarra, the Education Law Center executive director and appointee to the Council,
called Governor McGreevey's decision to cooperate with the plaintiffs an act of
"leadership and commitment to the children of New Jersey's urban school districts
that has been absent since we began this fight two decades ago."
the plaintiffs and the State defendants in Abbott applauded this development
as "historic," but implementation of the extensive court-ordered reforms
will take considerable time and effort. The implementation process and eventual
impact on student achievement in New Jersey bear watching.