Christie's School Aid Cuts Take It On The Chin

While Judge Peter Doyne’s ruling on the constitutionality of Gov. Christie’s cuts to school aid may not be Shakespeare, it’s rich with the political subtexts that infiltrate even so narrow a decision. Doyne begins his ruling with a line from "King Henry V", when the King exhorts his soldiers to “disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage” as they defend England and “go once more unto the breach."

Here’s the local coverage: Wall St. Journal, Star-Ledger, NJ Spotlight, The Record. Most of the ledes gloss over the nuances and go for the hit: Christie lost and Education Law Center won. (Spotlight notes that the concurrent events of the ruling’s release and the 1,000 people arguing in Newark over whether (public) charter schools can use (public) school space shows that the education battles in Abbott districts aren’t so much about money anymore.( Is this endless court battle obsolete?)

Anyway, here’s what struck me:
"[O]f the 1,366,271 students in the State – 282,417, or 20.67 percent, are students in former Abbott districts, leaving the remainder 79.33% of students residing in non-Abbott districts unrepresented. This is as troubling now as it was in the prior remand."
"Is there a concern teachers have failed to heed the request to freeze their salaries in an effort to assist their students, certainly. Are there concerns the various collective bargaining agreements curtail flexibility and available teaching time, certainly. The directive to this court, though, is clear and the superintendents’ testimony, collectively, did not allow this court to find the State had met its burden, at least with regard to these witnesses."
"Finding the Supreme Court reposed solely to itself the issue of economic realities and whether these realities should impact upon the required levels of SFRA funding, and further finding such issues were not before this court, the evidence was permitted solely to avoid further delays as the Court was obviously concerned about the FY 12 budget in establishing its remand time limit, and subsequent briefing schedule. Rather than have motions for a further remand or augmentation of the record, this court decided to permit the evidence subject to the Court’s limitations, only for purposes of completeness of record and not for the Master’s consideration."
"Although the Master was impressed with Hanushek’s thoughtful, if thought provoking analysis, it was problematic for this hearing for several reasons. First, the focus of Hanushek’s testimony was predominantly national, rather than focusing upon New Jersey. Second, there was a dearth of any meaningful review of the obstacles; e.g. collective bargaining agreements, union contracts, tenure and statutory provisions, may have on removal of the five to eight percent of our least capable teachers. Hanushek acknowledged he had not specifically studied any such agreements in New Jersey or the applicable statutory provisions."
Judge Doyne points to the irony of these circumstances. Not two years ago, during Gov. Corzine’s administration (though Corzine’s name doesn’t come up in the ruling) the State fought hard for a new way of distributing education aid. Instead of the vast amount of money poured into the 31 Abbott districts, it argued that our poor kids are spread out all over the map and it would be more equitable to use the spanking-new School Funding Reform Act.

ELC fought hard against SFRA’s implementation (after all, they represent just the kids in the original 31 districts) but the Court ruled for the State, with the understanding that it would revisit the efficacy of SFRA within three years. Now the State is arguing that the hard-won SFRA needs to be ignored and ELC is fighting for its strict implementation. Crazy, right?

More highlights:
"I think that there are going to be teachers and students who are going to succeed no matter the hurdle. I don't know if I can give you the kids . . . there are some kids who . . . were born on third base. They walk in and they're able to do everything they're supposed to do. I have a bunch of kids having a hard time getting out of the dugout. I'm worried about the kids who it doesn't come easy for and what we're not able to do for them. And I don't know if I can categorize or codify who they are at this point."

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