Friday, April 22, 2011

A Constitutional Crisis Grows In New Jersey Over Education Funding?

Gov. Chris Christie has warned that he might simply ignore the New Jersey Supreme Court's dictum that the state must increase education funding if the court rules in that fashion after oral arguments were made yesterday.
Gov. Chris Christie said last night that he hasn’t ruled out defying the state Supreme Court if it orders him to spend more money on poor public school students.

During the “Ask the Governor” radio program on New Jersey 101.5, Christie was asked whether he could just ignore the court if it ruled against him — a prospect that could compel him to restore up to $1.7 billion in school aid.

“That’s an option,” Christie replied. “I’m not going to sit here and speculate. … There are a whole bunch of options in the contingency plan.”

Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts last night would not say how seriously the governor is considering not complying.

Christie went on the attack against the state Supreme Court, a day after it heard oral arguments about whether he violated the state constitution by cutting public school funding last year.

Christie also took aim at Associate Justice Barry Albin, singling him out as an example of how “judges have lost their sense of place in our democracy.”
The State Supreme Court has consistently misread the constitutional requirement for a thorough and efficient education system, and ignores the fact that despite billions of dollars spent and reallocated throughout the state under the Court's Abbott decision, the education system remains anything but thorough and efficient.

The state's budget is what it is, and the Court cannot and should not impose by judicial fiat a requirement to impose further taxes on New Jersey residents over that what the Legislature and Governor agreed upon under their constitutional mandate to form a state budget. Yet, the New Jersey Supreme Court has repeatedly inserted itself into the education funding in the state, and the state has nothing to show for it except billions spent and students who aren't receiving the kind of education they should have despite funding per student averaging more than $16,000 per year (as of 2007-2008 - and it's much higher now). For comparison, New York spends more than $17,000 per student per year and the median expenditure is $10,000 per student per year. Connecticut spends more than $13,000 annually per student,

New Jersey has routinely had among the lowest percentage of federal aid per student at 3.9%, while Connecticut follows at 4.2%.

Pennsylvania has a similar thorough and efficient education clause in its state constitution, and yet the state spends significantly less than neighboring New Jersey (and education proponents claim that if the state spent another $3,000 per student, that they'd be able to meet proficiency levels - and yet that increased level of spending is still below the New Jersey spending).

What is lost on the New Jersey court, and education proponents, is that money is not the only factor in a thorough and efficient education system, and by ignoring the fact that the state cannot spend more than its means and the current $29.2 billion budget and that political expediencies means that education funding is at the levels indicated does not make the funding somehow not thorough nor efficient.

At the same time, education proponents claim that all this would be solved if the state merely reinstated a millionaire's tax, which hit those with incomes as low as $250,000. The fact is that the state's tax burden is largely the result of education funding - property tax revenue largely goes to education funding, and the state imposed the personal income tax and a sales tax increase to reduce the property tax burden. The fact is that in the ensuing 30 years since the personal income tax was imposed, the property taxes continued to rise, the property tax relief from a sales tax hike never truly materialized, and education costs have soared - all without the kind of improvement in student performance that anyone should like.

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