Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category
In the October 15th Trenton Times, Carmen Cusido’s article “County College has plans to expand” explains Mercer County Community College’s plans to increase its downtown Trenton presence.
For most people this sounds like good news, and in general it is. The second most important thing a city can do to revitalize is to provide job training. So MCCC’s decision to increase classes in Trenton where they can be easily accessed by Trenton residents is a great thing.
So why in the world would a guy like me who does almost nothing but lobby for smart revitalization in Trenton complain?
Because, the school is making dumb revitalization claims. MCCC argues that in addition to promoting the benefits of education to Trentonians, it is also providing an economic stimulus. They are not.
By expanding their programs, the college claims that more students will be milling around downtown presumably buying things. Here’s where MCCC logic breaks down. They are arguing that by students shifting their spending from one part of Trenton to the downtown it will have a marked effect on our economy. Somebody at MCCC needs to retake Economics 101.
The second point MCCC makes is that they will be spending money on construction on the expansion. I should remind readers that MCCC is funded with taxpayer dollars and that the proposed expansion will be tax exempt. So even though over half of Trenton’s property is tax exempt we’re going to get even more at the expense of Mercer County taxpayers.
I’ll give a couple of examples of what’s happened in downtown Trenton. Several years ago I made an offer on a building that’s since become part of the Daylight Twilight School. I was outbid by the school system. My project would have paid taxes, the school does not. The same happens with MCCC, they will outbid private investors using taxpayer money and we’ll be left with no new revenue. We’re also building an expensive new County courthouse on Market Street and county officials have the nerve to call this revitalization as well. Trentonians need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid of government spending. We need to elect officials who understand this and will be skeptical to the point of being openly hostile to the idea of anymore tax exempt development in our city.
That said, job training is a still a good thing. However the article on MCCC points to unclear thinking about what is really important in Trenton’s revitalization. We can’t afford to be vague.
In this political season it’s useful to point out what may be the most racist proposal put forth in New Jersey since city-wide school desegregation. It is the “Fair School Funding” bill and comes from Senator Mike Doherty of Hunterdon County. He probably would say he’s thinking about all New Jerseyeans. Yet, he’s proposing a policy that would push our state backwards from schools that are “separate but equal” (a poor starting point), to “separate but unequal”, where much of the South was in the 1950s.
Desegregation in our state was done on a city-wide basis, unlike in southern states which were integrated at a county level. The differences in effects are stark. Southern schools achieved racial integration because county districts limited white flight. In New Jersey, white families simply moved over a city line and created their own new racially segregated school districts, like West Amwell, Hamilton, and Ewing.
As a result, New Jersey has 590 school districts for a population of 8.7 million people while North Carolina has 115 districts for a population of 9.4 million people. This is how schools became comparatively “separate”.
This system of city-wide integration gave rise to New Jersey’s current level of segregation, which ranks the state as 12th in black-white segregation and 6th in Hispanic-white segregation according to a study at the University of Michigan based on US Census data.
The 1985 “Abbott vs. Burke” decision by the NJ Supreme Court further adjusted New Jersey’s educational landscape. It mandated that poor districts receive equal funding to rich districts. This is how schools became “equal”.
For those who aren’t students of civil rights history, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that “separate but equal” wasn’t good enough. While school systems across the country and particularly in the South resisted integration, forced school busing in these new county-wide districts, in many ways saved southern cities from the white flight that drained resources from their northern counterparts. It was a blessing in disguise.
Rather than propose ways to finish the job of racial integration in New Jersey, Senator Mike Doherty of Hunterdon County proposes to gut our “separate but equal” system of educational apartheid and replace it with a “separate and unequal” system.
Senator Doherty’s plan is called Fair School Funding. It seeks to equalize school funding from the State to a formula that equates to $7,400 per student no matter what school system that student lives in. In Senator Doherty’s PowerPoint presentation, he compares West Amwell (which is mostly white) to Asbury Park (which is mostly black). In his example, West Amwell would receive an additional $6000 per student from the State while Asbury Park would lose $17,000 per student. West Amwell could then spend $20,000 but Asbury Park could afford to spend only $10,000.
In the presentation given to a West Amwell Town Hall meeting, Senator Doherty uses a particularly “high handed” statistic that says 85% of school districts will get more money. However, I suspect that 50% of students will benefit and 50% will not because the large urban districts like Newark, Trenton and Asbury Park would be the losers.
The Fair School Funding web site is very well done and happily reports how much money every school district in the State would gain or lose. Trenton would lose over $130,000,000 (about 45% of its total) and Newark would lose over $370,000,000. Meanwhile, Princeton will gain over $23,000,000.
It takes a lot for me to call a thing racist but this plan just is. It’s based on the notion that it’s good that our schools are separate and furthermore that children in New Jersey’s poor (mostly black and Hispanic) districts don’t deserve the same public education afforded those in wealthy (mostly white) districts. If it weren’t, Doherty might have a Trenton or Newark co-sponsor to explain why property taxes would have to triple in those cities to make up for the loss in funding.
I fully expect Senator Doherty to trot out New Jersey’s Home Rule laws to defend his bill, much like George Wallace used “states rights” arguments to defend racial segregation. America has moved forward, leaving New Jersey behind, and now Doherty wants to take us all the way back to 1954.
Neither a State nor a civilization should want to institute a radical plan like Doherty’s Fair School Funding as it would effectively close urban schools. This proposal is like a “final solution” to the black and Hispanic urban populations.
If nothing else, this proposal shows how messed up New Jersey really is. The fact that a State Senator is proposing this should concern us even more. Senator Doherty needs to be called out. He apparently hopes to rise in the Republican Party and seek state-wide office. This should not happen.
It’s clear though that New Jersey needs to rethink how it wants to govern its society in order to overcome the fear and loathing that has bred Mike Doherty.
It’s fine to think that Asbury Park and Trenton need to do better at running their cities, they do. But really, other forces have caused West Amwell to be like it is and Asbury Park to be like it is. None of those forces have anything to do with how those cities are currently managed.
There are better ways to deal with schools and school funding and I call on Republicans of good will to lead the charge for a better New Jersey.
I’ll offer my counter-proposals.
New Jersey needs to fix its social fabric before the economic fabric of its cities and suburbs can work well together. The people of New Jersey need to reject segregationists like Doherty and embrace the goal of twenty-one modern, efficient and integrated public school systems.
Fair School Funding web site – http://www.fairschoolfunding.com/
University of Michigan Institute for Social Research – http://www.psc.isr.umich.edu/dis/census/segregation.html
In Part 1 of “The State’s Role in Fixing Trenton” I argued that New Jersey should fund a portion of Trenton’s revenue and I presented a simple calculation for a fair funding level, $70M. However, there are several big changes that only the state can make that will truly re-invent Trenton’s economy and potentially all of New Jersey’s urban centers.
Over the years, state and federal governments have adopted policies favoring the creation of suburbs: most notably road building, tax advantaged mortgages for single family homes and electrification. Technology also played an important role in making urban centers less important as telecommunications, trains, power generation and eventually container shipping spread manufacturing out of town. 
These policies and technologies, among others, led to urban decline over the last 50 years. Urban renewal and the riots in the late 60s were just nails in the coffin.
These are powerful mega-trends but their influence is waning and new mega-trends are taking over: Read the rest of this entry »
One of the most maddening debates you can have in Trenton is about city investment in new business vs. residential living.
Almost, to a person, the political elite in Trenton will tell you that investment in business is the top priority. I’ve had this debate countless times and you can see it in the political rhetoric of our candidates. However, when pushed by the logic of residential development, they’ll eventually say, “well it’s really a chicken and egg” problem. Read the rest of this entry »
Councilman Coston referenced in his blog, an email discussion he and I had about the impact of income distribution on Trenton. Mr. Coston’s blog can be found at, SouthTrenton.com.
I’ve taken the opportunity to restate the debate here. It’s a useful discussion for policymakers and I thank Jim Coston for being the kind of Councilman that is open to challenging his own assumptions. Read the rest of this entry »
I come from a family of teachers. My mother, father, both sets of grandparents, brother and aunts are all teachers. You can imagine the fun family discussions we have when I suggest that the NEA (National Education Association) is bad for them.
I’m well aware that many Republicans have strong opposition to the NEA. But at its root, the NEA is just another union. There is a natural conflict between unions and management as unions attempt to take control away from managers. The Republican party generally shares the sensibilities of managers and therefore doesn’t get much support from the union movement including the NEA. Read the rest of this entry »
With one act of enlightened self interest, Trentonians can spawn a new industry
It’s an industry without the risk of the car business. It attracts sought after middle class workers. And, it’s inherently good for the community.
What’s this wonder industry? And more importantly what do we need to do to attract it?
Education can be Trenton’s next great economic engine, all we have to do is break the monopoly government has on it. Read the rest of this entry »
A Modest Proposal to fix the budget and still keep the Water Works
In “Invest the Trenton Water Works proceeds in the future not the past” I argued that the proceeds from the sale of the Water Works should not be applied directly to the 2010 and 2011 budgets. I allowed that it was too late to fix the 2009 budget and therefore $20M of the proceeds should be used to patch this year’s gaping budget hole.
If a group of Trenton citizens have their way, the sale will be delayed until a public vote can be taken and it’s not certain at all that the public will go along with the administration’s plan. We’d be left with a huge problem. Therefore, we’d better come up with plan B for patching the 2009 budget. Read the rest of this entry »