While Judge Peter Doyne, the Special Master appointed by the State Supreme Court, hasn’t ruled yet on whether the State has unconstitutionally underfunded schools, the verdict is apparently in. Bob Braun of the Star-Ledger says “the chances are good the state will lose the case,” and Education Law Center is busy sending out news coverage (NJ Spotlight, The Record, NJN) that points to a weak case argued by Deputy Attorney General Nancy Kaplen, who is defending the $1 billion cut in school aid.
The state has introduced evidence it says proves money doesn’t matter. Wednesday, Kaplen argued about ineffective teachers and bad administrative choices and “obscene” collective bargaining agreements.
Doyne, a man with a great judicial temperament, still eviscerated the arguments with understated criticisms that they were “unfair” and “strident” and “unfortunate.” He repeatedly asked Kaplen what her complaints about school districts had to do with the question before him — can the aims of the funding formula be accomplished with a nearly 10 percent cut?
The best Kaplen could say was that there was no direct correlation between money and performance, although she did concede there had to be some correlation because, without money, schools could not stay open.
Interestingly, there seems to be little national context introduced into the debate over whether NJ has failed to provide a thorough and efficient education system in spite of aid cuts. Our cost per pupil is second only to New York State, even when adjusted for regional differences. Is that relevant? Who knows.
And who knows what happens to the state budget if the Supreme Court orders the Christie Administration to put back $500 million back into public schools? Charles Stile of The Record speculates that such an order would leave Christie’s budget “in shambles” yet “he’s counting on his bully pulpit, his bluster, and his sublime self-confidence.”
Here’s another guess. If the Court indeed rules that the reduction in school aid violated the School Funding Reform Act, maybe Gov. Christie will simply take back the $291 million he bestowed on all districts last week (as the suburbs gasped in relief) and apportion it out to Abbott districts. Nothing like a little class warfare to calm the waters. Bring on the prozac.