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The New Jersey Constitution and the 1875 "Thorough and Efficient" Education Amendment

Harriet Lipman Sepinwall


The "Thorough and Efficient" education amendment of the New Jersey Constitution has held center stage for more than twenty-five years as the state has struggled to define responsibility for the maintenance, funding, and governance of public schools. Adopted in 1875 in an effort to update the 1844 Constitution, the "Thorough and Efficient" provision endured as part of the 1947 Constitution. Supreme Court decisions in this area, particularly Robinson v. Cahill (1972-1976) and Abbott v. Burke (1985-1998), have focused attention on this amendment and elicited various responses from New Jersey's governors and legislators. These officials have tried to address judicial directives to provide a "thorough and efficient" education for all children.3 A review of the early history of state support for education in New Jersey and the later passage of the education amendment can help provide a useful and enlightening context in which to examine the contemporary implications of this provision.

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