Published: January 6, 2005
A Level Playing Field
New Jersey's Abbott v. Burke lawsuit set the Garden State on a bold new path for financing schools in its neediest districts. Several years after the key decisions in the landmark case, the results are still being debated.
To Joseph M. Ferraina, one need only cruise this humble seaside town, and then its hyper-posh neighbors, to understand why New Jersey desperately needed the school finance lawsuit that has delivered billions of dollars to the state’s poorest districts. “Just look at that,” he says as he steers his car past low-rise public-housing projects in Long Branch, where he has been the schools superintendent for 10 years. Within minutes, he is passing the massive homes and manicured lawns of adjoining Deal. “It’s a tale of two cities.”
Ferraina, the Argentine-immigrant son of a custodian, sees the Abbott v. Burke case as justice for the most underprivileged of children. In just seven years, it has transformed his district, he says, by expanding the educational opportunities of a needy student population.
Five of Long Branch’s nine schools are being replaced, and all have undergone millions of dollars in health- and safety-related upgrades. Ninety-four percent of the 3- and 4-year-olds in the district—more than 750 children—are taking advantage of the free full-day preschool program now available, and early test results suggest the program is boosting their skills in...
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