Editor’s Column: The Situation in New Jersey



Jenn Carey

These days, growing up in the Garden State comes with its fair share of problems – and I’m not just talking about sharing a state with someone named “Snooki.” Recently, New Jersey’s governor made headlines after proposing extreme budget cuts for schools. For weeks, education was at the forefront of every local discussion, with teachers protesting on the side of highways with signs reading “Cuts Hurt Kids” and students participating in a statewide “walk-out” organized through Facebook. However, as I listen to these teachers’ laments and read about the programs that will fall by the wayside, I cannot help but think that budget cuts are not the problem. The fact of the matter is that schools, whether public or private, do not spend their money efficiently.

I think the clearest example of this callous spending comes from a fourth grade classroom in my hometown. Instead of having the students sit in desk chairs, the standard seats have been replaced with giant exercise balls, based on a study that claims that doing so improves students’ concentration. Now, I’ll admit I’m no education expert. However, I’m pretty sure that any rational person who hasn’t recently taken hallucinogens will support me when I say that giving a bunch of ten-year-olds giant exercise balls with the hopes of helping them “focus” is a ludicrous idea. Kids, quite literally, will be bouncing off the walls. However, these gross abuses in spending are not limited to my tiny town and its “progressive” elementary school. I’ve encountered similarly poor budgeting decisions throughout my schooling years.

The State of New Jersey’s Department of Education website reveals that the average amount spent per high school student in 2008-2009 was $13,536. While $13,000 could fund a college education’s worth of textbooks, a modestly priced used car or a Colgate student’s four-year alcohol tab, this money seems to be channeled inappropriately within New Jersey schools. In my high school, the trend was technology. Anytime a new “toy” came out, my school had to have it. It seemed as if teachers were traded for SMART Boards, making sure that every classroom was equipped with the most cutting edge technology for watching movies during instructional time. While many SMART Boards sat untouched, my high school also invested in a small cavalry of COWS (computers on wheels, that is). Rather than going old school and using pen and paper, students enjoyed a fleet of Dell laptops that were wheeled around from classroom to classroom. While it became readily apparent exactly where the $13,000 per pupil was going, it seems as if no one ever questions why. Teachers often claim that tools like SMART Boards aid them in the classroom, but from what I’ve observed, these tools just make it easier for teachers to put in less effort. Why have students write out answers to the math homework on the board when you can just post the answer manual on a computer screen? Call me a purist, but that opening scene in “The Simpsons” just wouldn’t be the same if Bart was writing lines on a SMART Board.

When schools complain that the budget cuts will result in the loss of programs like “Gifted and Talented,” or those in the arts, these institutions only further cement their status as ineffective finance administrators. While the “Gifted and Talented” program in my high school met infrequently, everyday, there were at least three secretaries in the main office, one in particular who treated impoliteness as her full time job. Further, the school budget never seemed to allow for an increase in the quality of coursework offered. While my school ensured that students were provided with ample opportunity to take ceramics, there was never an economics course to be found. As the fifth graders one town over learned Mandarin Chinese, I could not even take a basic statistics course to prepare me for my college years.

So, rather than standing outside and protesting the budget cuts, I think a more rational approach is to question just how schools are spending their money – or rather, your tax dollars. Instead, students and teachers alike should be protesting the frivolous expenditures that so often occur in New Jersey schools. And while I’d love to start by protesting those bouncy exercise balls, I doubt that “Cut Big Balls” will prove to be an effective picketing slogan.