The quest for equity: New Jersey Governor James J. Florio and the politics of school equity funding, 1990-1993

Warren Prentiss Howe, Fordham University


The Quest for Equity is a political history of Democratic Governor James J. Florio's efforts to achieve education equity legislation in New Jersey. The study, treating the political strategy and consequences of those efforts, results from information obtained through personal interviews, reviews of relevant documents, and analysis of reports from government, academic, and media sources. During the early months of 1990, newly elected Governor Florio and the leadership of the state Legislature's majority Democratic Party, in anticipation of a New Jersey Supreme Court mandate, planned legislation to provide equal funding for all the state's public school students through a transfer of funds from more affluent to needier school districts. The legislation was politically controversial because it redistributed financial resources, limited wealthier school district spending, included selective tax increases, restructured teacher pension administration, and was enacted by June 1990, only 6 months after Florio's inauguration. The Florio program was strongly opposed by Republican legislators, education and anti-tax interests, and large segments of the public. It produced the loss of Democratic legislative control and contributed to the Governor's narrow defeat in 1993. Many believe this negative result could have been avoided if more time had been devoted to public education and consensus building in the legislative and education communities. But the study questions whether a broader consensus would have produced true equity and asks what the Florio experience reveals about the potential of legislating equal education funding. The study concludes that the Florio/Democratic defeats were highly logical outcomes of risks inherent in school equity legislation that distributes wealth regardless of complexity and time factors. Findings also suggest that such risks are especially hazardous in states with the diverse interests that exist in New Jersey. The study proposes that these risks, though politically perilous, are necessary to achieve the permanent, long-term structural change that equity requires, and that New Jersey may yet achieve true equity because of the accomplishments that the Florio administration introduced in public education finance.

Subject Area

School finance|Public administration|School administration|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Howe, Warren Prentiss, "The quest for equity: New Jersey Governor James J. Florio and the politics of school equity funding, 1990-1993" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9809009.