Rutgers School of Law professor Paul Tractenberg was awarded the Education Law Center’s Morheuser Humanitarian Award for his dedication to the advancement of the educational rights of students in New Jersey’s public schools.
Tractenberg, a West Orange resident, has waged court battles since 1970 to assure that inner-city public schools were funded as adequately as those in the affluent suburbs.
The award was presented at an April 28 ceremony at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick. It is named in memory of Marilyn Morheuser, a former student and research assistant who served as executive director of the Education Law Center until her death in 1995.
After many court battles, the center won a landmark case, Abbott v. Burke, which created 31 so-called “Abbott Districts,” which qualify for special funding to assure equitable public education for children in poor districts.
As he accepted his award, Tractenberg said a series of governors from both parties have challenged the Abbott decision with “almost 45 years of continuous litigation, with the state expending untold millions of dollars unsuccessfully defending a series of school funding laws found unconstitutional.” He noted that Republican governors tended to resist school funding reform more than Democratic governors.
But, he noted, “we also need to enlarge and diversify our reform efforts so that they reach all the other areas that negatively impact the many poor children in our midst.”
“We have already reached the point in New Jersey where children of color are a majority of our public school population,” said Tractenberg. “As a state, we will succeed or fail based on how effectively we support and nurture those children and how warmly we welcome them into our midst.”
A 1956 graduate of Newark’s famed Weequahic High School, Tractenberg has been a visiting scholar at Hebrew, Tel Aviv, and Haifa universities in Israel, where he has also taken part in bicycle rides to raise funds in support of an Israeli environmental group.
His wife, Neimah, who was raised in Israel, is director of missions at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
(Editors’ note: This article has been corrected; when it originally ran in the May 7, 2015 issue, it contained a number of errors, which NJJN regrets.)