New Jersey court reverses Governor Christie’s budget cuts to public school aid

Amanda Carey Contributor
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A New Jersey court, Tuesday, took a step further in effectively tying Republican Governor Chris Christie’s hands on budget and education reform.  Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne ruled that Christie’s budget cuts to school aid left public schools unable to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to New Jersey children.

Now, the case goes to the state Supreme Court where those seven judges will decide whether to act on it or not.

Doyne’s decision is based on a decades-old ruling in the case Abbott vs. Burke that says the New Jersey state government has to equalize funding for all public schools. The intent was to make sure low-income or poorly performing schools weren’t left out during the appropriating process, but today, the ruling is considered to be one of the most progressive  in the country.

And now, Doyne says the rule dictates that Christie’s $820 million cut to public schools last year doesn’t pass constitutional muster since it “fell more heavily upon our high risk districts and the children educated within those districts.”

In his decision, Doyne even wrote that despite the “significant increase in spending levels from 2000 to 2008,” some New Jersey districts are moving even further from adequate proficiency. His solution? Make Christie give them more money.

Some, however, say Doyne’s ignores a glaring truth about the link between money and student performance.

“The screaming reality is that we’ve seen very little connection between spending and academic outcomes,” Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute told The Daily Caller. “It looks like [Doyne] basically acknowledged that the state spends huge amounts of money on education, and then used it for an argument to spend more!”

Bob Bowdon, whose 2009 documentary The Cartel exposed a crumbling public school system in New Jersey, told TheDC that he, more than anyone, understands the state’s education dilemma. According to Bowdon, the broader issue is that when it comes to budgets, New Jersey has a system where courts can “decide the dollar amounts that are ‘constitutional’ and those that are not.”

“On the matter of education specifically,” said Bowdon, “Just Doyne determined that seven judges may impose their political beliefs on how much state money should be spent on schools, overruling the elected Governor.”

But Bowdon’s chief concern focuses on the fact that “all of New Jersey’s court-imposed education policies hang on one key phrase in the state constitution.” The phrase in question says that “The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools.”

“It begs the question, could there be any state policies the courts would consider inappropriate to co-opt?” said Bowdon.

“This is just a continuation of unfortunate education situations that we’ve seen in New Jersey and many other states for several decades,” added McCluskey. That is, “courts dictating to legislatures whether or not they are spending enough money on the right people for education.”

After the ruling, Christie’s office responded along those same lines, saying in a statement that the Supreme Court “should at last abandon the failed assumption of the last three decades that more money equals better education, and stop treating our state’s fiscal condition as an inconvenient afterthought.”

The spokesperson went on to slam past court mandates that have “incontrovertibly contributed to our current fiscal crisis…”

“In New Jersey the constitution says the Legislature may provide for a ‘through and efficient education,” remarked McCluskey. “Well, it’s clearly inefficient to continually spend huge amounts of money and not get better outcomes.”