Gov. Chris Christie cut spending to New Jersey schools by 20 percent — $820 million — after taking office last year.
Tuesday, Judge Peter Doyne of the state Superior Court found the cuts left schools unable to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to the nearly 1.4 million students.
This means that the cuts were unconstitutional, Doyne ruled, since the School Funding Reform Law makes it mandatory for the state to provide sufficient funding to schools.
Doyne also noted that Christie’s reductions "fell more heavily upon our high risk districts and the children educated within those districts. . . .Our 'at risk' children are now moving further from proficiency," he said.
The state Attorney General’s Office had argued that the cuts were necessary because of New Jersey’s fiscal crisis. Doyne acknowledged the difficulty of resolving the conflict between the budget and its constitutional obligation to educate New Jersey’s children. He wrote, "Something need be done to equitably address these competing imperatives. That answer, though, is beyond the purview of this report. For the limited question posed to [me], it is clear the State has failed to carry its burden."
Doyne’s finding will now be sent to the Supreme Court, which will decide whether or not to act on it. The Christie administration is expected to argue against the ruling there on the grounds that there is no correlation between the amount of money spent and the quality of education provided.
Christie spokesperson Michael Drewniak said, "The Supreme Court should at last abandon the failed assumption of the last three decades that more money equals better education, and stop treating our state’s fiscal condition as in inconvenient afterthought."
Governors of other states facing budget cuts, such as Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett, will be awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling with great interest.