Jersey education commission member draws blank on Abbott
January 16, 2011
By The Auditor/The Star-Ledger
State Sen. Nia Gill voted against Claire Chamberlain Eckert for the state Board of education after the latter said she'd never heard of Abbott vs. Burke.
Claire Chamberlain Eckert, a new member of the state Board of Education, knows a thing or two about education.
She's president of the board of trustees at the Peck School, a private Morristown K-8 institution where tuition for middle schoolers is $28,500. In her former job as a vice president at Goldman Sachs, she worked in a partnership with New York City to establish a charter school in Brooklyn.
But until Monday, Chamberlain Eckert, a major GOP donor and secretary of the Republican State Committee, had never heard of Abbott v. Burke -- New Jersey's well-known series of court decisions that mandated urban students get an education equal to students in the wealthiest districts.
The revelation came during her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, after state Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) asked Eckert, a Bernardsville resident, if she thought money that schools receive from private foundations should be calculated into the state's school funding formula.
"I don't pretend to even know what the state school spending formula is, so it would be hard for me to comment on that," she said.
Gill asked if she had ever heard of Abbott v. Burke.
"Sorry?" Chamberlain Eckert responded.
"Abbott v. Burke?" Gill asked again.
"No," Chamberlain Eckert said.
"I have no further questions, thank you," Gill said.
Sen. Joe Kyrillos defended Eckert, saying she "misspoke" because in their conversations they "talked about the inordinate amount of funding for some districts versus others." Gill was the only senator to vote against Chamberlain Eckert in committee and in the full Senate, where she was confirmed.
Chamberlain Eckert told The Auditor she was familiar with the arguments over the way New Jersey funds its schools, but did not know the case by name.
"I didn't know it as the decision Abbott v. Burke. I decided to err on the side of looking uninformed on that question rather than dishonest," she said.