Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Jersey Judge Overrules Governor Christie and Legislature on Education Budget Cuts

This is far from the first time in New Jersey history that the judiciary has sought to interject itself into a budget situation when education is concerned, but Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne ruled that the state's budget plan to cut $1.6 billion runs afoul of a state constitutional requirement to provide a "thorough and efficient education for New Jersey school children":
Judge Peter Doyne didn’t buy the Christie administration’s argument that the $1.6 billion in school aid cuts it made were distributed equitably among the state’s districts. Instead, he found that the reduction in funds fell disproportionately on poorer districts.

The ruling came after two weeks of testimony in which the state argued that districts could still provide a constitutionally mandated “thorough and efficient” education with current funding. A number of local school leaders testified, however, that the aid cuts made it difficult to do so, citing losses in staff and a range of programming.

Doyne, Bergen County assignment judge, was charged by the state Supreme Court with making a finding of fact as to whether the cuts allowed for a sufficient education. "The answer to this limited inquiry can only be no,” Doyne concluded in a 96- page report.

The issue of what to do about that now goes back to the Supreme Court, which can order funding restored. The Christie administration had argued that it doesn’t have the money.

The next move is uncertain but some local school advocates were heartened.
Doyne was empowered to act as a special master by the State Supreme Court back in January. Doyne, like the Supreme Court itself, continues to misread the State Constitution, Art. VIII Section IV, which 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.
Nowhere in Doyne's decision is a way to actually pay for the education he claims, nor does he understand that the state has failed repeatedly to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education precisely because of the court's interventions with Abbott districts and the legislative and executive branch attempts to circumvent those restrictions that have redistributed billions of dollars with little effect or signs of improved educational performance in low-income districts.

By looking solely at the cuts, Doyne ignores that spending alone does not guarantee performance or that a thorough and efficient education can be obtained with a smaller budget.

It further ignores that problems within various school districts are the fault of decisions made within those same districts. For example, Fair Lawn's $83 million education budget for the upcoming year is based almost entirely on local property tax levies, and receives just a fraction of that amount from the state.

Abbott districts did not resolve the historical inequities with certain inner city and poor performing districts in the decades since it was imposed by the courts. Rebuilding schools in those districts as a means to improve education has shown itself to be a failure as well as the SCA has been a morass of inefficiency, scandal, and waste - to the point that only a fraction of the schools that required work were actually completed.

Indeed, it appears that Doyne completely ignores his own finding that New Jersey spends more on education per student than pretty much every other state in the country and yet performance is not sufficient because poor performing districts are still poor performing and may be getting worse:
"Despite spending levels that meet or exceed virtually every state in the country, and that saw a significant increase in spending levels from 2000 to 2008, our 'at risk' children are now moving further from proficiency," he said.
Doyne pretty much says that no matter how much the state intends to spend, with or without cuts, it wouldn't be sufficient for constitutional adequacy (which is a misreading of the state constitution).

That paragraph, in a nutshell speaks volumes as to how and why the judiciary has screwed up education funding in the state and tied the hands of the legislature in dealing with education funding for a generation.

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