In writing the majority opinion this morning for funding the Abbott at-risk students, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia of the state Supreme Court said the state broke a solemn promise made to the students at risk.
She wrote, “The schoolchildren who comprise the plaintiff class have been denominated victims of a violation of constitutional magnitude for more than twenty years.
“Remedial orders were imposed to provide the education funding and services required to ameliorate the class’s constitutional deprivation. The State has for decades recognized the special status of that plaintiff class of pupils, and its compliance with this Court’s remedial orders demonstrates its recognition that plaintiffs’ constitutionally based remedies have imbued them with status akin to that given to wards of the State.”
Further, she stated: “When the Court granted the State the relief itrequested, it was not asked to allow, and did not authorize, the State to replace the parity remedy with some version of SFRA (School Funding act) or an underfunded version of the formula. In respect of the failure to provide full funding under SFRA’s formula to Abbott districts, the State’s action amounts to nothing less than a reneging on the representations it made when it was allowed to exchange SFRA funding for the parity remedy. Thus, the State has breached the very premise underlying the grant of relief it secured with Abbott.”
She essentially brushed aside claims of the Christie administration that since the Legislature has funding authority the court must step aside to its decisions.
“The case law cited by the State to support this position involves situations in which the suspension of other statutory enactments was at issue. It does not follow that the Appropriations Clause authority to modify or suspend statutes that raise some expectation of funding empowers the political branches to ignore judicial orders and decrees that specify a remedy to ameliorate a historical finding of constitutional violation. The Court holds that the Appropriations Clause creates no bar to judicial enforcement,” the justice wrote.
However, she wrote that “Plaintiffs claim the right to demand full funding of SFRA for all districts in the State. The extent of the Court’s jurisdiction in this matter starts and ends with the series of litigated proceedings that preceded this action. Those proceedings delineated the responsibility of the State to the representative plaintiff school children from Abbott districts.”
By a 3-2 vote, Justices Barry Albin, Jaynee LaVecchia, and Edwin Stern found in favor of the Education Law Center who filed a lawsuit against the state alleging a constitutional rights violation of inadequate education funding for low-performing students.
The court is requiring the state to refund $500 million of formulaic school funding for chronically failing students, for the year ending June 30 payable over fiscal year 2012. The total educational bill totaled roughly $1.7 billion, but the court took into account the current fiscal climate of the state, as laid out by counsel Peter Verniero, who formerly sat on the state’s top court.