I was recently a guest lecturer at William Paterson University (WPU) in Wayne, New Jersey. Part of the New Jersey state system, WPU is home to a very diverse and dedicated student body – many of them the first in their families to attend college and virtually all of them working their way through school.
Maybe it was because I arrived just days after Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg handed Newark's Mayor Corry Booker a check for $100 million dollars for Newark's (NJ's largest city) schools during an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, or maybe it was because the students were planning a walkout to protest another round of state-wide tuition hikes – but all the students (and many faculty) wanted to talk about education. Specifically money for public eduction.
In one class, I met an amazing professor who's been using NPP's database for years to track federal education spending at the state level. She and her students use the database to measure the impact of both federal and state-level funding on local per/student spending on K-12 education. They've been particularly focused on the continuing impact of Abbott v. Burke, a New Jersey Supreme Court decision which mandated – roughly – that urban children must have access to the same quality education as their suburban peers. Using NPP's database, they've been able to see a trend of more funding for school districts like Newark's and they've been able to explore the impact.
So what happened on Oprah? Newark's Mayor and its Governor were on hand to received the check, as was Harlem Children's Zone Geoffrey Canada. And while much was made of Newark's struggles, nothing was said regarding its successes. Yet many at William Paterson believe that Newark students and teachers haven't been waiting for Superman. Rather, they've been putting the public funds available thanks to the Abbott decision and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to good use.
Newark Star Ledger columnist, Bob Braun, noted that just days before the $100 million Oprah episode, the Schott Foundation for Public Education issued a report heralding Newark for it's groundbreaking work, noting “New Jersey’s Abbott districts invest in their children by providing them with increased hours of education each day, on weekends, and in the summer. They also invest in continuous professional development for teachers and other staff and, crucially, in 0-4 preschool preparation for learning to learn.”
“It's all in the numbers,” said the professor at William Paterson University. “That's why we have to help our students connect the federal, state and local dots. No matter what your political perspective is, everyone needs access to NPP's information about our tax dollars at work and their impact. Without it, how can we fully and intelligently engage in the most important issues of our time?”