Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is the Donald Trump of politics. There is not one dopey statement this guy won't say. The latest? This story from the New Jersey Star-Ledger is the biggest and latest smackdown from Christie over funding of K-12 education.
Gov. Chris Christie flashed with anger today when pressed on his recent remark that he could defy the state’s highest court if it orders him to send more money to public schools.
It was two weeks ago on a conservative-talk radio station that Christie said he could ignore the court ruling — which could result in him being ordered to spend $1.7 billion more money on schools.
With a ruling from the Supreme Court possible at any moment, tensions are escalating. Christie might be mum now on whether he’ll ignore the court, but he is not shy about painting a dire picture of the state should the court rule against him — warning of possible draconian cuts, even singling out an individual justice.
What is the situation on funding? Christie cut $1.6 billion in K-12 funding.
Lawyer David Sciarra, who represents the Education Law Center in Newark, an advocacy group for children in low-income cities, told the state's highest court that New Jersey should be required to fully fund the public school aid formula the court accepted in 2009.
A ruling requiring additional aid would also be a significant blow to Christie's education agenda. The governor maintains that aid hasn't equaled achievement and has proposed changes that include an end to automatic tenure, basing teacher evaluations partially on student achievement, adding charter schools and using state tax dollars to fund a pilot school voucher program.
Albin said the state had $1 billion in revenue from a surcharge on the wealthiest residents but allowed the additional tax to lapse. Christie has refused to consider renewing the surcharge, despite Democrats' urging him to do so.
Over the long history of the case, the state Supreme Court has consistently ruled that New Jersey should provide more money to the state's poorest school districts.
The rulings have led to free pre-schools for 3- and 4-year-olds in those cities, replacements and repairs for decrepit school buildings, and extra help for teaching key areas such as reading.
But they've rankled opponents. They're a scourge to people like Christie, who say judges shouldn't make laws. Schools in the suburbs complain their districts get shortchanged because so much aid goes to poorer schools. And, the rulings have a direct effect on the state budget.
So Christie is now saying if the New Jersey State Supreme Court orders him to fund education according to the levels of an agreed-upon formula in 2009, he might not obey their order.
This is HUGE.
"If the governor of the state says he’s not going to obey a court order, that’s a constitutional crisis," said Earl Maltz, a law professor Rutgers-Camden who works with the conservative Federalist Society. "There’s no doubt about it."
Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Burlington) expects voters to back Christie in any fight with the court.
"Most people I talk to are totally disgusted with the meddling," said Malone, a former teacher. "The Supreme Court has created a monster that people are tired of living with."
"He is just trying to put pressure on the court," Askin said. "They’re under a lot of pressure now. Several of the members don’t have tenure and they know Christie is not going to reappoint them if they defy them."
Some legal experts question whether Christie can even defy the court unilaterally since he shares responsibility for the budget with the Legislature.
"That would be grounds for impeachment," said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), even though Democrats lack the votes needed. "We are a nation of laws, and contempt for the law by the highest elected official of the state would be a grave offense that would undermine the integrity of the office of governor."
This is the ultimate action for education reform. If Governor Christie can say, "for K-12 education, it's my way or the highway", well,, then expect a lot more to follow.