Education Law Center Motion Could Restore School Funding (NJ)
June 9, 2010
Charging that Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed aid cuts "indisputably violated" the state’s obligation to fund schools in a manner upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court, an education advocacy group filed a motion Tuesday seeking to force the state to abide by the existing school funding formula.
The action by the Newark-based Education Law Center on behalf of children in the state’s 31 poorest districts could force the state to restore funding the governor slashed.
"This is a billion dollar aid cut that’s going to have to be addressed," said David Sciarra, executive director of the law center. "This was a clear responsibility."
School districts across the state were sent reeling by the governor’s $820 million cut in school aid. As a result, districts are planning to lay off staff and cut programs; reduce busing; and increase property taxes.
In its filing, the Education Law Center is asking the Supreme Court to stop Christie’s cuts and maintain school funding under a formula the high court upheld last year.
"The state’s action … effectively deprives plaintiffs and their peers statewide of the resources the state itself determined were necessary," the ELC wrote in its brief.
The Education Law Center asked the Supreme Court to handle the matter quickly, "given the immediate need for districts to finalize budgets and prepare for the 2010-11 school year."
School funding is on e reason Christie has said he wants to reshape the state Supreme Court.
The governor provoked a firestorm among Democrats and the legal community when he nominated attorney Anne Patterson to replace Associate Justice John Wallace. Wallace voted to uphold the retooled school funding formula but was not on the court for the original Abbott decisions.
"The people making those decisions should be the people you elect, and who you can kick out if they’re making decisions you think are bad decisions," Christie told a town-hall audience in Robbinsville last week.
Last May, the state Supreme Court upheld a new school funding formula that distributes aid to more districts based on enrollment, with extra money for those with high concentrations of students who are poor, have special needs or have limited English skills.
In its ruling, the court ordered that the formula be reviewed after three years — which the ELC says is impossible if school funding is slashed this year.
An analysis of Christie’s budget by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services found his proposal "departs significantly from the funding provisions" of the formula, crafted by then-Gov. Jon Corzine to replace a system in which aid went to 31 poor districts, known as Abbotts, to fund them on par with wealthy districts.
The ELC filed the legal challenge that led to the Supreme Court upholding the retooled formula. After the court ruled last year, the ELC called the formula a "major setback."
The Office of Legislative Services said Christie ran a modified version of the formula, then reduced all districts by up to 5 percent of their total budgets.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the school aid cuts were forced by "an unprecedented budget crisis," adding that "no district was singled out for disparate treatment."
"This year’s budget decisions reflect the simple fact that an endless pot of money does not exist and we cannot continue government and school funding at unrestrained levels," he said in a statement. "Our state budgeting and education policies cannot continue to be dictated by court edicts that don’t adequately consider the realities of student performance and budgetary limitations."