Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Jersey Supreme Court Calls For Special Master To Review Gov. Christie's Education Cuts

The State Supreme Court is looking to evaluate whether Gov. Chris Christie has somehow violated the state's constitutional requirements on education by proposing $1 billion in education cuts.
For a second time, the court asked Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne to serve as its fact-finder. Doyne will be asked to decide whether Gov. Chris Christie’s nearly $1 billion in cuts to state education aid last year violate the constitution's requirement for “thorough and efficient education for New Jersey school children."

The spring deadline for Doyne to present his “findings of fact and conclusions of law” throws Christie’s ability to allocate education funding in the state’s next budget into question.

This is not the governor’s only challenge. Because the court’s most recent Abbott v. Burke decision came with an expectation that the state would provide full education funding for three years – an obligation Christie broke – the legal burden now falls to the state to prove that the present levels of funding are sufficient.
The Court has been deeply involved in setting education requirements following the Abbott decision, and has cost the state billions in redistributing education funds from wealthier districts to other districts around the state that were seen as underperforming.

The problem is that those underperforming districts are still underperforming and the infusion of billions of dollars over the years hasn't brought about much needed improvements.

The court's focus on funds is misplaced. The Abbott Districts outspent other districts around the state over the years in which the Abbott rules were in effect, which should have disproven the link between funding and educational results. Money, by itself, does not provide a "thorough and efficient education for New Jersey school children".

Moreover, that's not exactly what the state Constitution says. The State Constitution, Art. VIII Section IV says:
The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.
That's a significant distinction, and the misapplication and misreading of this provision has led to the judiciary's inappropriate intrusion into education funding.

The system is hardly efficient and billions of dollars have been wasted because of inefficiencies in the past decade, particularly when it comes to school construction.

The court's reading would override the legislative and executive branch ability to set the funding for the statewide education of students through the public school system, and ignores the state's precarious fiscal condition. Cutting funding is necessary to close a multibillion dollar deficit and to help get the state on firm financial footing.

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