The New Jersey Supreme Court (NJSC) ruled on May 24th that New Jersey must spend $500 million more on education in 31 specific historically under performing districts (labeled “Abbott” districts). The basis for these rulings is a state constitutional mandate that requires a “thorough and efficient” education be provided to the state’s children.

Defining “Efficient”

Efficient – achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.

New Jersey, at $17,537, spent the second highest amount per pupil in the nation in 2009. The national average in 2009 was $10,539 per student – nearly $7000 less per student. Ten out of the top twenty academically performing states spent less than the national average. New Jersey also had the second highest cost at $16.83 per academic performance point compared to the national average of $10.48.

There may be several states who can claim to provide an “efficient” education to their students. New Jersey isn’t one of them.

Why then does the New Jersey Supreme Court continue to enforce spending mandates when increased spending clearly isn’t solving the problem?  The only arguments that present themselves lean toward mental impairment of a faction in the court or a court agenda at odds with sound fiscal and academic policy.

Let’s examine these arguments shall we?

Background and Context

This lawsuit came as a result of $1.3 billion in education cuts used to balance the New Jersey budget.  As we have shown on our Education Funding page and our new Statistical Analysis of education funding page (due out this summer) there is no correlation between education funding and achievement.  Many “underfunded” districts and states routinely outperform districts and states that pour more resources into education.

The ruling in New Jersey is the latest in a string of similar rulings dating back to 1985 that affect the Abbott districts. The NJSC has previously ruled multiple times that these districts must have more funding and programmatic additions including a mandate to provide pre-school for 3 and 4 year-olds. These programs go well beyond those offered by other districts in the state. After 25 years of increased funding and programs the schools in these districts still haven’t increased their performance sufficiently to shed the “Abbott” district label. In fact, since the initial ruling the original 28 districts have grown to 31 districts (out of 611 districts statewide).

Now we’ll analyze the arguments for whether the New Jersey Supreme Court has some mental impairment or whether they are agenda driven.

Mental Impairment

There are a couple of options for mental impairment: insanity, ignorance, or mental deficiency.

Insanity

Insanity – extreme foolishness or irrationalility

Einstein’s definition – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

Using either definition, a strong case could be made here. Having had the lack of correlation between spending and academic performance explained to them the NJSC cannot rule in favor of more money over and over again without appearing irrational. Ignoring the fact that the additional funding has not had the desired effect, thus matching the predictions of statisticians, the NJSC continues to return to the same method while expecting different results. Both definitions for insanity seem to be met.  Since the latest vote was 3-2 it is plausible that three of the justices suffer from a mild form of insanity.

We will have to leave insanity as a possibility though not with high probability.

Ignorance

Ignorance – lack of knowledge or information

This is a tough sell unless they’ve perfected selective hearing and reading skills. Keep in mind they have been exposed to the argument that there is simply n0 correlation between funding and academic performance. In addition, the fact that this case keeps coming back to the court should keep them apprised of the lack of academic progress being made in these districts.

The number of times this case has returned may make them feel that the reason for chronic failure is the state’s difficulties in accommodating the court’s demands but again the lack of correlation between funding and performance should have clued them in by now that funding is neither the problem nor the solution.

Ignorance does not seem to carry strong enough evidence to make it the culprit.

Mental Deficiency

Mental – of or relating to the mind

Deficiency – a lack or shortage

The NJSC justices presumably passed the LSAT and law school at some point. During their time in law school surely they were introduced to the basics of Logic, reasoned arguments, and rational thought. I find it difficult to believe that they are incapable of understanding rudimentary statistics and simple arguments. Any mental deficiency they may currently be suffering from would have to be subtle enough only to affect certain cases before them or only recently acquired, say from perhaps the drinking water.

Mental deficiency does not appear to have a realistic chance of being the culprit either.

Agenda Driven

If ever there was a state that could afford to help achieve a balanced budget by significantly trimming a bloated education budget it is New Jersey.  They are the poster child for overspending on education. For statistic geeks out there, the amount of funding lavished on school children in New Jersey place the state in the “outlier” category for spending.  That means their spending is more than two standard deviations above the national average. Simple translation – they spend a LOT more than almost all other states in our country.

Why? New Jersey, to their credit, had the third highest academic achievement in the country in 2009. One might be tempted to think, “That spending seems to be paying off”. However, their academic performance is topped by Massachusetts and New Hampshire which spend almost $4000 and $5750 per student less respectively and they are both above the national average in spending themselves.

Students in states struggling with academic performance would be able to look at these numbers and clearly determine that there is money being wasted on education in New Jersey.

The next ruling that the NJSC has that addresses the area of “efficient” education will most likely be its first in the last 25 years – at least. What then compels the court to continually rule against common sense, sound academic policy, and prudent fiscal policy?

The answer lies in liberal ideology. Liberal ideology believes that there is no social problem that can’t be solved by a government program and lots of taxpayer money. Poor results, and thats the kind that typically result from government solutions, indicate to liberals that the program is underfunded and too limited in scope. When taxpayers complain at the ballot box legislators occasionally understand that they have spent more than the taxpayers are willing to part.

Unfortunately the collective wisdom of the state is no match for a handful of judges who are true believers of liberal ideology. Don’t get me wrong, judges provide a necessary function in our republic. However, substituting their ideology and writing laws from the bench (very specific laws in the Abbott cases – down even to programmatic offerings required of these districts) exceed their constitutional authority.

Clearly a sound argument can be made for the judges being agenda driven.

Conclusion

When the two most credible explanations for the actions of the New Jersey Supreme Court boil down to some form of insanity or agenda driven actions one has to conclude that the citizens of New Jersey are poorly served by their court system.

Maybe New Jersey should eliminate their state Supreme and Appellate Court systems in order to balance the budget. Perhaps they shouldn’t waste this budget crisis. They could use the temporary closing of judicial services to find judges willing to stay within their authorized roles, who are capable of understanding rational arguments, and are willing to judge cases on their merits rather than their personal ideology.

Heck, just find some judges who understand the definition of efficient!

Leave a Reply

*