Located 3,700 miles away from downtown Newark, N.J., the Alaskan village of Golovin is as rural a setting as New Jersey’s largest city is urban. And the states surrounding the two communities present a contrast that is similarly extreme. With just over one person per square mile, Alaska is the nation’s least densely populated state. New Jersey, with a population density 1,000 times greater, is its most crowded.
In many respects, the public schools in the two communities differ as dramatically as the landscapes around them. Yet they have this in common: Compared with the facilities of other school districts in their own states, the schools in Golovin and Newark are at a significant disadvantage.
Determined to close the gaps, representatives of rural school districts in Alaska and urban school systems in New Jersey have taken their complaints about unequal and inadequate facilities to court—and won. Across the country, similar rulings have forced states to re-evaluate their traditionally arm’s-length posture toward paying for the construction and renovation of schools.
In the accounts that follow, Education Week offers close-up views of the conditions that have propelled such litigation forward in Alaska and New Jersey. In Alaska, rural districts want schools more like those in the cities. In New Jersey, the cities want schools like the suburbs’. In both places, courts have decreed that it is the state’s obligation to make things right. Part two of this three-part series includes:
- “Out in the Cold.” State leaders in Alaska are under court order to improve the condition of schools in the state’s far-flung rural villages. The state’s response could affect the schools’ very survival.
- “Urban Renewal.” Over the next decade, Newark plans to build 45 new schools and renovate all 30 others. Some see an urban renaissance. Others fear that hopes are too high.
A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2001 edition of Education Week as Town and Country