(And they both miss something, too…)
Following Governor Christie’s announcement of $50 million worth of renovations for Camden High School, there has been an eruption of “yes versus no” amongst two of the Delaware Valley’s most active and influential bloggers/columnists.
First, on December 3rd, Matt Rooney of savejersey.com condemned the allocation of these funds, suggesting that it is pointless and wasteful to continue to fund what he calls a “Failure Factory”. Mr. Rooney also mentions the extreme difference in spending per pupil between Camden City, and say, Haddonfield, as he mentions later in his December 8th post on the topic. He says, “An ‘upgraded’ failure factory is still a failure factory. Tens of millions of dollars (!!!) sunk into physical/structural improvements for schools […] is an inexcusable waste of money”.
This initial argument condemning the allocation of an additional $50 million in funding does make me beg a very important question, similar to Rooney’s, and that is, “Why does educational spending yield little results in Camden?”. But for now, based upon the initial argument alone, I would have responded similarly as Kevin Riordan of the Philadelphia Inquirer did.
On December 4th, Riordan responded to Rooney’s blog post by saying that Camden High School is a worthy investment. Riordan argues that, “Camden kids deserve a high school with facilities on par with those elsewhere” and I wholeheartedly agree. I spent one day in Camden High School roughly two years ago in the month of May, and I could not wait to leave the building because I was literally cooking. I couldn’t tell you what was said during the class that I was supposed to observe because I could only focus on how hot I was in that classroom. So, including other structural concerns within the building, I can understand why students may struggle academically inside of that building. Having stated this, I find it unfair to deem the funds to be a waste of money, since such initiatives could dramatically change a child’s experience in school, and it could be argued that temperatures exceeding a certain degree would create an environment unfit for human health and well-being.
Then, most recently on December 8th, Rooney replied to Riordan’s post, by which he defended his initial arguments by going into much more detail. Within this post, Rooney raises another good question, I believe. That is, “HOW much money would make a difference in Camden?”. As Rooney suggests, and I agree from an outsider’s perspective, it does seem as though the State Legislature has continuously “thrown money” at cities like Camden without much regard towards the benefits, or drawbacks, of doing so. However, this is where I divide from my agreement with Mr. Rooney.
When we analyze the billions of dollars that have been invested into Camden City Public Schools over the past decade, we realize that yes, this school district has indeed received an insane amount of public aid. Yes, spending per pupil is much higher due to special needs students. But, what is most important to realize is that every year that CCPS and the municipal government receive aid, it is to merely pay the bills. There has not been any significant allocation of investment funds in Camden in more than forty years, so the perils of high concentrations of poverty have amplified. Sure, there is the waterfront, with an aquarium and a battleship, but they serve little to no benefit for Camden residents. I wish I could academically answer Mr. Rooney’s question, because I too would love to know exactly how much money it would take to make a difference in Camden’s schools. I can’t put an exact number on it because there are so many additional factors that exist everywhere in the nation which will forever influence the success of a public schools system.
Therefore, when we consider the fact that Camden City holds 76.8% of the entire county’s affordable housing developments, the lack of business, food scarcity, and the physical infrastructure, I find it even more impossible to fathom a number that would begin to positively impact Camden’s schools.
I think the above factors are what both columnists fail to acknowledge, even though among the three posts the platform for that acknowledgement was not always present. Possibly to the disapproval of both men, I propose the following: Rather than creating a school vouchers program (which Rooney suggests) which will still coexist among the same crushing realities of massive and amplified concentrations of poverty, Camden is in need of one final investment. (I can sense Rooney preparing to slaughter that ideal. Just wait, give me a chance to explain!)
I propose one final investment that would symbolize a true stimulus, by which municipal and educational bills are paid off for the next ten years; one upfront allocation of cash. Also, there needs to be enough additional money available through this stimulus so that roads can be re-paved for the first time since Whitman himself walked upon them, and street lights are lit, abandoned buildings are dealt with, and small businesses are given a chance to exist among the winners of the EOA. When we step back to think about it, such an idea would cost about, hmm, I’d say $10 Billion.
Far-fetched, right? NO! Because $350M/year for schools, plus ~$300M/year for municipal government, multiplied by ten years comes out to $6.5 Billion, of which we are scheduled to dish out anyway in one decade since nothing exists to suggest otherwise. The extra $3.5 Billion of this true stimulus would be allocated to the above public works projects. Why would anyone think that writing an annual check for regularly recurring debts would make any difference? We’ll just have write another check next year! These band aides simply prevent bankruptcy, and serve to do almost nothing else. We need to put Camden, and cities like it, in a situation where it can annihilate the factors that continue to cost New Jersey tax payers billions of dollars every year.