Supreme Court Decision in School Funding Case

Update: In a press conference shortly after the ruling, Christie called the ruling “disappointing” but not “unexpected”, based on a failed legal and educational theory. Money doesn’t equal results. Says he will must comply with the constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Christie will leave it to the Legislature to find the money. Hat tip to both @GingerGibsonSL and @lisafleisher in the press conference.

As Deciminyan noted, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today that the state must restore $500 million back to public education next year, far less than the $1.7 billion they might have ordered. And an out for a Governor who has both threatened simply to defy the Court if it ruled against him, and who has claimed New Jersey simply doesn’t have the money to fully fund the state’s schools under the funding formula approved by the court in 2009.

The majority opinion written by Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia said Christie’s deep cuts to NJ’s education spending have been “consequential and significant” and must be rolled back. That $500M is to be directed to the state’s poorest districts for the fiscal year beginning in July. Link to Supreme Court opinion.

It’s going to be much harder for Christie to defy the Court over $500 million, and less credible than it might have been to some voters if he claims New Jersey can’t reach that deep into its pockets: $500 million is not too far from the $400 million he intentionally botched in New Jersey’s failed efforts to get federal Race to the Top money. But Christie might defy the court anyway. Push comes to shove today, and he’s threatened to defy the Court over this several times. And defying the state’s Supreme Court is a curious position for that state’s chief executive, who as an attorney has sworn to uphold the law.

Christie is scheduled to talk to the press in just a few minutes. In a way, this decision allows Christie to further pit poor people in NJ’s cities against the wealthier suburbanites who make up his base. But how far is he willing to take that? How much deeper a wedge does he want to drive. If the Governor fights this $500 million into NJ’s cities, this could very well be Christie’s Let them eat cake moment.

Today’s decision arises from a lawsuit by the Newark-based Education Law Center, claiming that Gov. Christie’s slashes to state funding of its public schools were unconstitutional, violating the state’s constitutional requirement to provide “T & E,” the “thorough and efficient system of free public schools”. The Supreme Court ruled today, in essence, that Christie’s cuts did in fact leave the state unable to provide “T & E” education, but with the poorest districts left most vulnerable to those cuts, and the remedy directed to those districts.  

Comments (10)

  1. 12mileseastofTrenton

    As I said below, expect him to focus on the dissenters calling into question the legitimacy of a three, as opposed to a four, vote majority.  The dissent couldn’t have written it any better for him.  However, that it’s only $500,000 may give him the out not to flout the ruling.  Although I’m sure he’ll bash the three in the majority.

  2. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Three years ago, I sponsored the law that allowed New Jersey to finally lift the weight of the Abbott decisions off its shoulders. In only one year, Chris Christie has thrown it right back on top of us.

    By ignoring our constitutional school funding law – which took years to craft – the governor has brought us right back to the position of the Supreme Court determining school funding levels based on zip codes. The suburban districts who were finally seeing their long-awaited chance for stable funding realized have had the rug completely pulled out from underneath them by the governor.

    The governor’s reckless decision to ignore the law is the reason that the Court has returned us to the very system he has railed against, nothing more and nothing less. Had he grasped even a basic understanding of this case he would have embraced the new formula and given the Court the ability to relinquish oversight of Abbott funding.

    Instead, we’re back at square one.


  3. deciminyan

    Restore the millionaire’s tax for one year to fund the poorest school districts. The supposition that millionaires move out of the state because of taxes is a red herring. Besides, if the tax is for only one year, no millionaire is going to pick up roots and move just for that.

  4. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    I have to close the computer, so if there are any stunners that come out of the (unexpected) press opportunity to ask questions, I hope someone will post them here.  

  5. 12mileseastofTrenton
  6. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Two years ago, Democrats devised a constitutional funding formula that abolished the practice of basing school funding on zip codes. By ignoring the law, Governor Christie has single-handedly recreated the Abbotts and brought the courts back into New Jersey education.

    The governor, who as a candidate promised no school cuts, was well aware that his draconian cuts to education were illegal. Unfortunately, the governor has learned that his actions have consequences.

    As Senate President, I am committed to bringing all underfunded districts up to the adequacy standard, which will ensure proper funding for the state’s 205 underfunded districts. Using the state’s windfall, we should provide additional funding for all inadequately funded districts across New Jersey. This will render the court’s decision a moot point.

    Adequate funding and quality education are not urban versus rural or suburban issues. Education is a New Jersey issue.

  7. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    NJEA welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the children in New Jersey’s public schools.  While the decision does not restore the funding previously lost by schools or immediately undo all the damage caused by more than $1.3 billion in cuts, it begins the process of restoring our schools to fiscal health and reaffirms our state’s longstanding commitment to investing wisely in our children’s future.

    While we are disappointed that the remedy ordered by the court only extends to children in the 31 Abbott districts, nothing in the ruling prevents the state from honoring the spirit of the ruling and restoring funding for all children in all public schools across the state.

    Children have been the primary victims of the state’s failure to provide adequate resources to its public schools, according to the funding law passed just three years ago.  Today’s ruling puts the interests of children ahead of political agendas.

    We call on Gov. Christie and the Legislature to craft a budget that complies with the court’s ruling and the law, and which respects the educational needs of all New Jersey children.  We also urge them to fund the education of students in all districts moving forward so that the state does not waste any more time or money defending the indefensible.  Our children’s education is too important to be left to the whims of politics.

  8. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Today’s decision rendered by the Supreme Court recognizes the importance of fully funding our poorest districts. It is our responsibility to provide students with the resources they need to achieve academic success.

    We must recommit ourselves to finding a way to help all New Jersey students. During these difficult economic times, any cuts to any school district can prove detrimental.

  9. Bill W

    Okay, Governor, why don’t you ask New Jersey’s private schools to open their doors to any student wishing to enroll, free of charge.  Because if “money doesn’t equal results”, then they should have no problem accommodating the additional students without additional funding.  


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