Everyone’s favorite Star Ledger Christie-basher, (no, not Tom Moran) Paul Mulshine is up to his old game again. Shoveling the idea that Chris Christie is somehow less conservative, and worse for your bank account, than former Governor Jon Corzine was. He took to his keyboard this week to attack Christie’s budget address, and more specifically, his allocation of school aid funding for urban and suburban districts.
Many Save Jerseyans are quite familiar with the “Abbott” decisions handed down by the Supreme Court of New Jersey over the last few decades. These cases defined the “thorough and efficient” education requirement in Article VIII, Section 4 of the New Jersey State Constitution by overreaching and ignoring key aspects of what makes an education thorough, and by completely ignoring the word efficient and instead deciding to create a system where more money must equal better outcomes. As we all know, this is a decision that has failed New Jersey’s poorest students for many years as our system in these “Abbott” districts continues to deteriorate, regardless of which party controls Trenton.
Mulshine and some of the Tea Party groups in New Jersey are critical of Christie now because he did not take this budget and use it to dramatically morph decades of Supreme Court precedent and turn the state school funding scheme on its head. A feat that would literally be impossible today. The fact is that the court has made itself quite clear. It has decided to ignore the realities of educational standards of success and go with a monetary approach to solving problems. The equivalent of dumping your tax dollars into a toilet and making the students pull the flusher. The spending ratios that send roughly 3/5 of school funding to the few select “Abbott” districts are not going to change based on a budgetary decision made by the Governor. That budget would: 1. never make it through the budget process in a Democrat legislature, and 2. there would be numerous court challenges from the NJEA to the ACLU.
Christie has decided to take a not so subtle approach to this problem. He showed early on that he intends to change the Supreme Court of New Jersey. The decision not to reappoint Justice Wallace made his intentions patently clear. The Governor picked Anne Patterson, a highly qualified individual, to take that seat on the high court. President Sweeney has, in turn, made it clear that he has no intention of ever giving her a hearing in the Senate. Now with Justice Soto-Rivera also not seeking reappointment, the Governor is going to have another seat to fill. That nominee is unlikely to get a speedy hearing either as the dereliction of Constitutional duties bestowed upon the Senate President continue.
Until the court changes, the funding scheme is not going to change. The Governor could strip “Abbott” districts of any and all extra funding that they receive, and it would all be ordered back faster than you can say “school choice.” It would be a divisive move that would literally amount to nothing and could even jeopardize other parts of a budget that was carefully crafted from the bottom up. The solution is to change the court, and then change the structure to get some real funding and education reform into our schools. This will take some time, but a court that is willing to accept reality in its school funding decisions will yield far better results than a Governor having to do battle with a cornered Legislature. The reform will come. The changes will come. But for now, Mr. Mulshine, please, just please, calm down.