Gov. Christie's deep aid cuts last year have prevented New Jersey public schools from providing students the "thorough and efficient" education required by the state constitution, a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Peter Doyne's 96-page advisory report did not suggest what action should follow. He left those "more daunting questions" to the state Supreme Court, which had requested that he serve as a special master to investigate the constitutional issue.
Depending on what the court decides, the matter could have significant repercussions on the state's finances. In the fiscal year that ends June 30, New Jersey would have to have provided another $1.6 billion to comply with the funding formula law, according to Doyne's report. Faced with a nearly $11 billion deficit, Christie slashed education aid by about $820 million.
Doyne acknowledged the difficulty of meeting the constitutional mandate during the state's fiscal crisis. But he said, repeatedly, that New Jersey failed during recent hearings to prove that its funding levels were adequate.
"Something needs to be done to equitably address these competing imperatives," Doyne wrote. "That answer, though, is beyond the purview of this report. For the limited question posed to this Master, it is clear the state has failed to carry its burden."
Despite the state's efforts to inflict less pain on poorer districts, Doyne wrote, "the reductions fell more heavily upon our high-risk districts and the children educated within those districts."
Thirty-six percent of New Jersey's school districts were funded at a level deemed less than adequate under the funding formula, according to Doyne. Seventy-two percent of the state's at-risk students lives in those districts, he wrote.
The parties in the case have until April 14 to file responses to Doyne's report.