On May 4, Education Law Center hosted its highly anticipated 50th anniversary celebration at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark.

The event began with a panel discussion, entitled “Promise and Perils in Public Education: Past, Present, and Future,” featuring Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, National Education Association Executive Director Kim Anderson, American Federation of Teachers NJ President Donna Chiera, University of South Carolina Professor of Law Derek Black, and Schott Foundation President & CEO Dr. John Jackson. The discussion was moderated by ELC Executive Director, Robert Kim.

The panelists discussed the progress made in public education over the past 50 years, starting at the time ELC was founded. Professor Black commented on the 1973 landmark case, San Antonio v. Rodriguez, in which the Supreme Court decided the disparity between high- and low-resourced schools did not violate the U.S. Constitution. “Had Rodriguez
been decided differently, we might have a federal right to education. Instead, we have 50 different states with 50 different school finance systems,” said Professor Black.

Dr. Jackson and Ms. Anderson noted that inequities in education went back even further and were deeply systemic in nature. “We have an education finance system that is fundamentally unequal. It was designed that way. We [now] have a crisis of untapped potential [in our students],” said Ms. Anderson.

“If you think about it, Brown v. Board of Education wasn’t a touchdown. It was a first down toward the goal of education justice. There’s still a lot more work to do to achieve equity,” said Dr. Jackson.

The panelists then addressed current challenges facing public education, ranging from continuing funding inequities and private school vouchers to the rise of attacks on teachers and curricula that foster diversity and inclusion. As a former educator and the current leader of the city that’s home to New Jersey’s largest school district, Mayor Baraka spoke eloquently about the challenges of curriculum issues and student segregation and the importance of providing access to college as well as other opportunities for young people.

The panelists also connected current perils in public education to larger problems facing our democracy, including voter suppression and efforts to censor diverse viewpoints. But they also ended on a hopeful note, marveling at the energy, talent, and resilience of youth today. They also applauded ELC’s pivotal role in ensuring equitable opportunities for students.

“ELC’s [court] victories not only transformed school districts like mine; they changed the lives of all the children who attended schools in our districts. Thank you, ELC, for your continued advocacy,” said Ms. Chiera.

The panel was followed by an evening reception attended by over 200 guests and commemorating ELC’s illustrious history and its many ground-breaking successes over the past five decades. ELC Board of Trustees Chair, Gregory Little, opened the program by recognizing past and present staff and trustees and pro bono attorneys who have worked with ELC over the years. He then turned the program over to Mr. Kim, who offered welcoming remarks.

Mr. Kim’s speech highlighted the many challenges facing public education in states across the country, including the diversion of funds from public to private schools, inadequate and inequitable school funding, student discrimination, school segregation, and hostility toward diversity – and how ELC will continue to protect public schools and students through litigation, advocacy, and research.

The reception program included a short video, prepared by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), honoring ELC’s legacy. Attendees heard from ELC founder and first director Paul Tractenberg, and Gibbons Law attorney Lawrence Lustberg, who has worked with ELC over many years. Mr. Tractenberg and Mr. Lustberg were introduced by ELC Trustees Jamal Watson and Ellen Frede, respectively.

ELC was also honored with a video tribute from Senator Cory Booker and Senate and Assembly Resolutions acknowledging the organization’s many contributions to the State of New Jersey. Assemblywoman Mila Jasey presented the Assembly Resolution during the event and spoke eloquently about ELC’s impact. Senator Booker, the New Jersey Legislature, and Assemblywoman Jasey helped make an already special evening even more meaningful.

The program concluded with a farewell to ELC’s longtime Executive Director, David Sciarra, who stepped down earlier this year after 26 years of leading the organization. ELC staff and trustees thanked David for his many years of leadership and fierce advocacy in defense of public education. A video tribute to David also played during the event.

ELC extends its sincerest gratitude to ETS, NJEA, and AFT NJ, as well as the many other organizations, firms, and individuals who sponsored and attended the event. An electronic copy of the sponsorship journal is available here.

ELC, with your help, intends to remain a fierce advocate for public education for the next 50 years! To make a donation to ELC, please click here.

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x 240

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240