TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New Jersey Supreme Court rebuked Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday and ordered the state to increase spending on poor schools by an estimated $500 million.
But in its split ruling, the court stopped short of the scenario Christie frequently and publicly said he feared: An order to hike spending on all schools to the tune of $1.7 billion.
“Today’s ruling is disappointing but not unexpected,” Christie said.
Christie said he will not defy the ruling but called the decision legally faulty and bad education policy adding that the ruling represented “everything that’s wrong with how Trenton has historically operated.”
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He said it will be up to the Legislature to decide how to do it as it wrestles with the state budget over the next five weeks, and added he would veto the budget if he doesn’t like the Legislature’s approach.
The $500 million is about the same amount the state treasurer says the state has in a windfall due to higher than expected tax revenues.
Two of the court’s seven justices recused themselves for the case. The court voted 3-2 in favor of the decision, with Justice Edwin Stern, who was temporarily assigned to the court, casting the deciding vote.
Christie also asserted that he didn’t think it was the business of the courts to make such a decision.
“I do not believe that it is the role of the State Supreme Court to determine what programs the state should and should not be funding. The court should not be dictating how taxpayer dollars are spent,” Christie said.
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The ruling Tuesday was the 21st decision in the decades-long court battle known as Abbott v. Burke, the legal part of New Jersey’s definitive political conundrum.
“Education should be equal,” Derek Moore of Montclair told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.
“I think it’s a very tough decision because I agree with certain things, certain tactics he’s applied, and I think it’s going to be really tough for taxpayers,” said Elaine Sinisi of Caldwell.
News of the court’s decision spread quickly on the streets of Montclair. This community will see none of the money but may have to foot the bill as they face drastic cuts in education, but some said they were willing to pay more.
“You have to do what you need to do for the students, to enrich them and give them the education they need,” said Lisa Renwick of West Orange.
Montclair High School’s principal was hoping for more money.
“We’ll take the resources we have and do the very best we can,” James Earl told CBS 2’s Sloan.
High school students have spoken out against Christie and the cuts to districts that prompted a wave of layoffs and program reductions at schools across the state.
Now some residents are worried taxes could go up even more.
Over more than two decades, the state’s Supreme Court has ordered the state to pay more to subsidize 31 school districts in low-income communities to satisfy the requirement in the state constitution that New Jersey provide children with a “thorough and efficient education.”
In many respects, the state’s public schools are regarded as among the best in the nation, with top graduation rates and high scores on the SAT and other standardized tests that are given across the country. But the schools in the state’s cities, which include places that rank among the nation’s poorest, have lagged behind.
The court orders have led to free preschools for 3- and 4-year-olds in the cities, new and improved school buildings and extra literacy tutors, among other items. And now, most of the so-called “Abbott districts” have among the highest-spending districts, on a per-pupil basis, in the state.
“It’s a hard situation. Education is important for everybody,” added Lynne Rubin of Cedar Grove, “and everybody is struggling right now. I think it doesn’t sound like great solution for people who aren’t in poorer districts, but I am sure they need the money.”
Christie said he does not believe that an additional $500 million will not make a difference in schools that already receive about 10 times that much in state aid each year.
Christie previously said he would consider defying the court if he disagreed with the much-anticipated ruling. But on Tuesday, he downplayed that comment, made on a radio show, saying that it was just one option.
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While the gap in test scores has narrowed between the city schools and others at lower grades, it is still wide.
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