A Bold Education Agenda

“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. Competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be getting six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge for its citizens, just like national defense.”

~Sam Seaborn

Why can a fictional character on television’s The West Wing better articulate the simple truth about education than anyone in the entire ‘real’ world of American politics? This video only suggests the significance of making America smarter.

New Jersey public schools enroll 1,370,000 students: 49% White, 24% Latino, and 16% African American, with 38% living in poverty and 4% learning English.

The state spends $18,523 per pupil, which is more than 40 percent of every state and local tax dollar collected, so there is no excuse for the results to be unsatisfactory in so many cases or for such little attention to be paid to the issue during election campaigns.  

Increase teacher quality & resource equity

Americans need to value education in proportion to its importance in our society and the global economy.  Democrats recognize education as the most pressing economic issue in America’s future, and we cannot allow our country to fall behind in a global economy. We must prepare the next generation for success in college and the workforce, ensuring that American children once again become global leaders in creativity and achievement.

“Teachers should be paid like doctors; their work equates to saving lives,” according to Nicole Campbell, Vice President of Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation. 

New Jersey should require a minimum teacher salary that attracts the best and the brightest to the profession and establish a plan of action that restores the public employee retirement system to sound fiscal condition by taxing the wealthiest residents who benefited from unwise income tax cuts and the repeal of the estate tax. In 2018, that minimum teacher salary should be about $60,000. 

Educate every child without excuses

High quality early childhood education is the fundamental foundation for a high quality public school system that leads to a well-educated citizenry and talented workforce. Public policy ought to guarantee education that is free and of high quality from the age of three to a college degree. 

New Jersey's Constitution requires the Legislature to 'provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.' Decisions in Robinson v. Cahill from 1973 to 1976, including New Jersey Supreme Court rulings that held the constitution’s “thorough and efficient” education clause requires equal educational opportunity for all children.

In 1981, plaintiffs filed the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding case, challenging the state’s failure to adequately fund high poverty, urban school districts. During 30 years of litigation, the New Jersey Supreme Court has issued 21 Abbott rulings, striking down school funding schemes that violated the Legislature's constitutional duty. Today, segregation and inequitable results show there is no way to fix the current system except completely restructuring the system.

Promote enhanced literacy & learning

In the economic climate we are facing we need a good “offense” strategy; going on the defensive trying to prevent education cuts in austerity budgets will not win the battle.  Education spending really is an investment in national defense.  It’s our most profitable economic stimulus initiative. 

From cradle to grave, Americans can benefit from learning so we must make it a bigger part of our culture.

The fact that the body of human knowledge has grown so much, and technology is so much a part of our economy and life, we must expand the breadth of education with a pre-K through college system of free public schools plus a reliably true and accurate flow of information about matters of civic value. 

Stop stalling and ‘do the right thing’

New Jersey’s school districts should be consolidated to gather sufficient resources to educate our children for twenty-first century life, eliminate massive duplication in administration and cut property taxes in half.

Home rule does not exist today even as it is used as an excuse for incompetence, but a statewide system can include school-based, elected community boards that put people and principals together in a meaningful way.  It’s been known for 40 years that we need to keep New Jersey’s Constitutional promise to children, but only legislative action will truly turn hard-fought court victories into classroom realities.

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  • Sally J. Gellert
    commented 2017-11-20 09:30:33 -0500
    I am not in favor of centralization; I do believe that local municipalities can enter into shared-service agreements without losing their autonomy, keeping the best of home rule (local control and accountability) while benefiting from economies of scale. Neighborhood schools, particularly in elementary grades when children do not have as much mobility as they have even in junior high school/middle school (which, by the way, starts too soon—our sixth-graders should get the confidence-building opportunity to be the “big cheese” in elementary school rather than going to a school with preteens and teen-agers), and of course high school, where many are starting to drive and virtually all can confidently use public transportation.
    Of course, one of the biggest challenges for attaining quality education in our state is corporate charter schools and the privatized Common Core/PARCC take-over of our state’s and individual school staff’s ability to tailor a curriculum to students’ skills, needs, and interests. Our teachers are being limited in their ability to use their creativity in motivating their students with the need to “teach to the test”, rather than testing what students actually learn.