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.