TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie’s school funding cuts violate the state’s constitutional mandate to provide a “thorough and efficient” public education, a court-appointed Special Master ruled on Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne wrote, “The difficulty in addressing New Jersey’s fiscal crisis and its constitutionally mandated obligation to educate our children requires an exquisite balance not easily attained…. it is clear the State has failed to carry its burden.”
Christie’s budget left school districts with $1.6 billion less than the school funding formula called for during the current fiscal year.
Doyne found that while the aid reductions were formulated with the intent not to disadvantage districts most reliant on state aid, the cuts “fell, most significantly, on those districts least able to withstand the reductions.”
“Thirty-six percent of our districts were funded at a level below adequacy for FY 11; seventy-two percent of our at-risk students reside in those districts,” Doyne wrote.
The state’s current fiscal realities were beyond the scope of Doyne’s review. The state Supreme Court must now determine whether to accept the Special Master’s findings and decide whether economic considerations apply to the state’s obligations.
“The fact that the greatest impact of the governor’s cut was felt by at-risk students is, unfortunately, more evidence his budget did not include his oft-touted shared sacrifice,” said Assemblyman Luis Greenwald, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee. “If the court accepts these findings, the governor’s budgeting philosophy will be further called into question. We’ll all have to work cooperatively moving forward on an approach that meets constitutional muster while protecting taxpayers and children.”
“All property taxpayers, parents of school children and school officials should be prepared for another devastating mandate from the Supreme Court,” said Assemblyman Joseph Malone, a Republican member of the Assembly Education Committee. “We don’t know how the court will proceed, but the Special Master’s opinion is a pretty clear indication that the result won’t be good for suburban taxpayers and quality education.”