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School Funding Cuts Ruled Unconstitutional… in New Jersey

A judge in New Jersey has ruled that Governor Chris Christie's deep cuts in state aid to education this year are unconstitutional. According to Judge Peter Doyne, cutting state aid $800 million, to $10 billion, fails to maintain and support the "thorough and efficient system of free public schools" required by Section IV, paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution.

Let's see, from those numbers, I calculate Christie's overall K-12 cuts were 7.4%. South Dakota Governor Daugaard was advocating a 10% for our K-12 system. He and the Legislature settled for 8.6%, then "found" one-time money to "soften the blow" this year only to 6.6%. Of course, our state constitution only requires a "general and uniform" system of schools. If they generally and uniformly offer fewer opportunities than I had when I graduated from Madison HS in 1989, I guess we're still constitutional... right?

The attitude that you can't throw money at education, it's just not the answer? Well, I propose we try it for a couple-three years [Bob Mayer, superintendent, Lennox school district, 2011.03.22]. 


  1. Eve Fisher 2011.03.23

    If it isn't unconstitutional to cut education, it should be. One of the first things the Puritans and other original settlers of this country did in every village and town was to build a meeting house and a school. Education was a top priority, because they believed that an uneducated citizenry was apolitical, irreligious, unemployable, and dangerous to the public weal. If every current politician and party is going to invoke our founding fathers at every turn, it would be nice if they actually behaved somewhat like them.

  2. Joseph G Thompson 2011.03.23

    Cori, there is nothing in state law that says a school district can't throw money at education. There is even a pathway to do so, it is called an opt out. If the citizens of the Lake Central School District want to increase spending on education there is nothing stopping them from doing so. Can I expect such a proposal from you when you are elected to the school board?
    Joseph G Thompson

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.03.23

    Joe, that's certainly one conversation I want to have. The state says Madison gets $360K less next school year. Before we fire teachers or cut class offerings, I want to ask you and the rest of our neighbors whether they want to get rid of those teachers and classes. Are we all willing to spend a little more money next year to avoid cuts? Do we even have that money in the community to spend? If the money is there and folks are willing, I'd rather spend it and maintain those opportunities for students.

    Now we rejected an additional $1.2M or so in annual expenses last month for the sake of a new gym and renovations. That complicates the budget question. We still need to itemize the repairs (not the new things) that the school can't wait for any longer. Do we fix those problems first? Do we do an opt-out to keep teachers on the job instead? Can we do both? What do you think?

  4. Troy Jones 2011.03.23

    How much do you want to bet this judge's ruling is overruled?

    [CAH: Troy, I'll grant you it's thin ice. As with South Dakota's own "adequacy" lawsuit, I don't want to turn to the judiciary for the solution. "Adequate," "thorough," and "efficient" don't seem like the most rock-solid terms to define in court. I'd still rather fight it out in the Legislature.]

  5. Shelly 2011.03.23

    . . . and there are some districts that will never opt out. Dell Rapids, the governor's hometown, for one. It took five elections before the new elementary school to pass.

  6. Joseph G Thompson 2011.03.23

    Education has never been an easy fix in South Dakota. From the beginning of statehood you find arguements that schools are underfunded/overfunded and teachers salaries are too low/too high.

    While growing, up my son attended schools in 5 different states, 1 foreign country's system and the Department of Defense school system. My grandchildren now attend school in San Diego. Had always been involved in the schools until Madison, but that is another story. The best systems have always had very strong Parent/Teacher Associations involved in curriculm. Lacking in Madison since the 1960s.

    I believe the state funds for an adequate education. The state sets the basic standards for graduation from high school and is then required to fund to those standards, which I believe it does. Anything past those basic requirements should be funded by the local districts. For example the state requires 1 foreign language, if the local school wants two, then they should fund the teacher.

    Local communities have to decide what is important to them and their children. One size does not fit all. Example, in the elementry school my grandchildren attended they were not eligible for the gifted child program because the school district said that based on the academic achievements of my son and daughter-in-law adequate intellectual stimulation should be provided at home until the 7th grade, when both would be placed in advanced classes. The school also has a school foundation that funds special classes when the PTA supports the addition.

    Community and parental involvement and committment to education is necessary. While I was growing up in Madison whole neighborhoods were involved in the school. My grandparents were involved in the Garfield PTAs even after their children(my mother, aunts, and uncles) were no longer in Garfield. It was their school and it was important to them. If the school needed money and there was none from the school district they raised it somehow and didn't ask that it be taken from Washington school and be given to them. Why should the residents of Sioux Falls pay for the education of students in Madison? It's Madison's responsibility.

    Do we want our children to go to Ivy League colleges, state colleges, vocational schools or be done at high school. I know what I prefer, Ivy League, but also understand that it is unrealistic for me expect that, since most people I know, would not be willing to fund a high school at that level. That is what the district needs to decide, not the state, but the district.

    Enough rambling,

    Joseph G Thompson

  7. John Kelley 2011.03.23

    The sad thing about this ruling is that NJ's education spending per student is the highest in the nation. Giventhat, the ruling won't stand. The question has never been the money; rather it is what is being done, and not done with it and the consistent inability to achieve 21st century academic results as contrast to the academic leaders: Singapore,

  8. Eve Fisher 2011.03.24

    Joe, what you're talking about is the real problem with education in this country: the lack of family and community involvement in education. These days the entire burden of education is thrown on the teachers. You can assign homework, you can tell students they must study, you can do all sorts of things: but if the children are allowed to blow it all off as soon as they get home, they're not going to learn very much at all. And I'm not even getting into the lack of social (and personal) skills that many children exhibit these days. This problem is only going to get worse as, with decreased funding, and decreasing teacher staff, classroom size is going to increase. Learning any subject requires more than the students sitting in the classroom for 50 minutes a day, no matter how great the teacher is. Parents and guardians have to be fully engaged in their children's education as well.

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