Governor Christie Takes Legal Action on Public Education

Governor Chris Christie directed the Office of the Attorney General to file a historic legal action with the state Supreme Court today to clear statutory and contractual impediments that he says have interfered with New Jersey’s maintenance of a “thorough and efficient system of free public schools,” as required under the state constitution.

This legal action asks that the Commissioner of the Department of Education be given the authority to set aside unconstitutional impediments posed by state laws and labor agreements in order to hire and retain the best teaching staff available for New Jersey’s poorest and lowest-achieving school districts. The action seeks to reopen the 30-year-old case of Abbott v. Burke, which has yielded a series of rulings by the Supreme Court designed to improve educational programs for children in our neediest districts and resulting.

“We’ve tried it for 30 years. What we know now is, more money alone does not translate into a better education. 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,” said Governor Christie.

The differences in per-pupil spending of state aid in what are known as the “School Development Authority” or “SDA” districts is now triple and even five times more than the state aid provided per-pupil in other districts.

According to a press release issued by the Governor’s office, New Jersey has spent nearly $100 billion in tax revenue on the 31 targeted districts since 1985, “yet the students in those school districts continue to perform far below state education standards and the other districts in the rest of the state. Students in these districts also have lower graduation rates, and many of their graduates require costly remedial courses before attending college”

“It would be criminal to allow this situation to continue,” said Governor Christie.

Today’s legal filings seek to allow the Commissioner of Education to bypass – when necessary to maintain a thorough and efficient system of public schools – laws and collective negotiation agreements that prevent school districts from rewarding and retaining their best teachers, dismissing under-performing instructors, introducing improved educational programs and extending the amount of time students are in class and being taught by teachers.

Additionally, today’s legal action seeks to hold state funding for SDA districts at current levels, while the legislative and executive branches enact a new system for funding education that is fair and constitutionally sound.

“While advocating my Fairness Formula over the past few months, I have noted that we can no longer tolerate a tenure law that places seniority above effectiveness, or tolerate limits on teaching time that restrict teachers to less than five hours of a seven-hour school day in districts where our students most need quality teachers and intensive instruction,” Governor Christie said. “These are obstacles to a quality education and should be removed. Increased funding should be tied to outcomes, and obstructive laws and contracts must yield to the state’s moral and legal obligation to provide all students across the state with the best education possible.”

Governor Christie, through his Fairness Formula, has proposed equalizing the per-pupil state spending in New Jersey.

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