PoliticoNew Jersey- The Christie administration on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to allow the state to cancel teacher contracts in some districts, saying unconstitutional tenure mandates have impeded the ability of schools in poor districts to offer students a “thorough and efficient” education.
The state Attorney General’s Office, at Gov. Chris Christie’s direction, filed documents requesting the court reopen the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, which led to a series of major rulings that held poorer schools should be given additional state funding in order to catch up to their suburban counterparts.
While the decades-old school funding debate frames the new action, the most consequential part of the governor’s request is focused elsewhere. The state says it should have the power to fire bad teachers and bust union contracts in the state’s School Development Authority — or SDA — districts, which receive higher levels of aid from Trenton than schools in more well-off suburban communities.
“What we know now is, more money alone does not translate into a better education,” Christie said in a statement. “Better teaching methods, more instruction time and improved educational programs make the difference, and we cannot in good conscience fail another generation of children living in the Garden State’s poorest school districts by denying them access to a proper education that is delivered by eager and capable teachers. This situation must change.
The state is asking New Jersey's highest court to give the Department of Education the authority to rip up union contracts and ignore laws that it sees as “impediments to a thorough and efficient education, consistent with the Court’s opinion in this matter.”
But the request does apply to education aid as well: The state is asking the court to freeze aid to urban districts at current levels, vacating its previous order “to the extent that it contemplated funding of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 in accordance with its terms.”
That, the proposed order says, would allow “the Legislature and Executive Branch [to] develop a new system for providing education to students that is fair and constitutionally sound and that can be implemented in time for the 2017-2018 school year. If a new system is not timely implemented, the Court will entertain further applications for appropriate relief.”
Christie has been pushing for a new funding formula that would deliver the same amount of state aid to every district in New Jersey: $6,599 per enrolled student, with some exemptions for special education. That “Fairness Formula” would scrap the Supreme Court-mandated policy of giving poor schools more per pupil funding than more well-off ones.
The administration argues in its legal brief and in a press release from the governor’s office that after sending nearly $100 million of state aid to the urban districts since 1985, students continue to perform below state standards and other districts in the state.
“It would be criminal to allow this situation to continue,” Christie said.
The governor is holding a town hall meeting Thursday afternoon to take questions from the public about his funding plan, which is widely considered to be politically impossible to achieve with a Democratic Legislature. It would mean enormous cuts to schools in some of the state’s poorest districts.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who is considered a top contender for the Democratic nomination for governor, is pushing is own ideas about school funding reform. The Senate is voting Thursday afternoon on a resolution that would establish a commission to study the issue.
The state’s largest teacher’s union, the New Jersey Education Association, called the filing a “frivolous legal challenge” that employs a strategy similar to one he used in 2010. The union called it “a political ploy.”
“Christie wants to gut the best public schools in the nation to advance a partisan agenda that puts politicians ahead of children,” the group’s president, Wendell Steinhauer, said in a statement. “He wants to strip funding from New Jersey’s most economically challenged communities to give tax breaks to his wealthy neighbors in Mendham and other communities like it. He wants to eliminate the common-sense protections that keep schools from becoming political patronage mills.”
In a statement, Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick said the legal action “demonstrates the governor’s commitment to the success of students who are being left behind by an outdated public-education system.
“Charter schools in SDA districts have shown the ability to successfully graduate more students at a lower cost than traditional public schools,” he said. “The Legislature must join the governor in advocating for students in failing districts and the taxpayers who can no longer afford the costs of this failed system.”
Read the proposed order: http://bit.ly/2cyJ9AQ
Read the state’s legal brief: http://bit.ly/2cyJeEE