By Murray Sabrin
Last week, the treasurer’s office informs us that higher income tax revenue of slightly more than $500 million for the next 14 month will fill the state’s coffers. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ordered the state to spend $500 million more on schools in the Abbott districts. Call me cynical, but what a coincidence!
Did the Christie administration provide the Supreme Court with an “olive branch” by making this announcment about the tax windfall so it did not have to restore the $1.7 billion in school aid cuts the Education Law Center wanted? The ELC, in its lawsuit, asserted that amount was necessary for providing a “constitutionally” funded education for “at risk” students who attend Abbott District schools.
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision cuts the proverbial baby in half. Abbott District schools get more state aid next year. Governor Christie and the Legislature do not have to come up with $1.7 billion more in school aid in next year’s budget as the ELC wanted, and the Supreme Court looks “reasonable” by not ordering a huge increase in funding that would require a substantial tax increase and/or reductions in other spending.
In short, the status quo remains—more money for the Abbott Districts where student achievement is frighteningly poor in many schools. The answer to the annual school funding battles is to separate schools and taxpayer funding. In the meantime, state school aid should be distributed on an equal basis as Senator Michael Doherty recently proposed. Equality under the law demands that the state not discriminate against any child. Period.
Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at Ramapo College and blogs at www.MurraySabrin.com.