When will judges, editorial writers, politicians, pundits and others get it right about what the New Jersey State constitution states about education?
In a recent ruling Judge Peter Doyne, a special master appointed by the Supreme Court, asserted that the Christie administration short changed school districts by nearly $2 billion last year in violation of the constitutional mandate to provide a “through and efficient education” to students in the so-called Abbott districts and other school districts.
Judge Doyne sent his findings to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which will decide if it will order the Christie administration to pony up more funding in the 2012 budget. The governor said he would not raise taxes. This leaves two options: reduce spending in other areas of the budget to free up money to comply with the Supreme Court if it finds that last years cuts were unconstitutional and orders restoration of those cuts; or the governor could tell the Supreme Court to take a hike because it has overstepped its bounds when it comes to state spending on education.
Governor Christie has the state constitution on his side. According to ARTICLE VIII
(TAXATION AND FINANCE), SECTION IV, PARAGRAPH 1. 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.
In other words, the State is obligated to provide a “system” of free public schools. Exactly what that means is open to interpretation. Here is one reasonable interpretation: the State has created a Core Curriculum, students are taught by licensed teachers and many students go to school in brand new buildings or renovated facilities. In short, the state has met it obligation under the constitution. Note: the constitution does not mention a “thorough and efficient education.” This is a made up phrase by the courts and the Education Law Center, which has been suing the state endlessly for more funds to be pumped into urban school districts.
Moreover, Governor Christie would be on solid ground by ignoring all Supreme Court rulings regarding the funding of public education. According to Article VIII, Section I, Paragraph 7. a. No tax shall be levied on personal incomes of individuals, estates and trusts of this State unless the entire net receipts therefrom shall be received into the treasury, placed in a perpetual fund designated the Property Tax Relief Fund and be annually appropriated, pursuant to formulas established from time to time by the Legislature, to the several counties, municipalities and school districts of this State exclusively for the purpose of reducing or offsetting property taxes…. (emphasis added).
Governor Christie can strike a blow for separation of powers and common sense. State aid to school districts is the responsibility of the Legislature as per Article VIII, Section I, Paragraph 7. If local school districts are unhappy with the aid Trenton send their way, they should lobby for more aid or help elect candidates who will vote for more aid. Otherwise, the Supreme Court should refrain from butting in where it has no business.
In the final analysis, if we want better education outcomes in urban areas, it is time to realize that large brick and mortar facilities are not answer and that education is a two way street. Children and their parents are also responsible for education success just as much as teachers are.