Kids get busted for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Motorists are given tickets for burned-out brake lights. Small-time stuff, not even real crimes, but the municipal courts are jammed with it. Now, how about a governor—like, say Chris Christie–who consistently flouts the law, keeping as much as $5 billion from the public schools? What happens to him? He gets re-elected and thinks he can be President.
The Education Law Center (ELC) reminded us again this week of what a genuine lawbreaker Christie is—and the public advocacy law firm isn’t talking about closed lanes on bridges or twisting arms to help friends make bucket-loads of money in Hoboken, Belleville, and New Brunswick. It’s talking about depriving tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of children of their constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education by failing to ensure the school aid formula (SFRA) is funded.
You know, unimportant stuff like that.
So that’s not a criminal offense? Neither is driving with broken tail-lights or even smoking a joint—but schlubs like us and most of the rest of the world are held accountable and remind each other how virtuous we are when we don’t break the law. Christie gets to shoot his mouth off at town halls, running for a presidential nomination I have a better shot at winning, with his transportation and protection paid for courtesy of the taxpayers.
The ELC’s executive director, David Sciarra, sent a letter to John Jay Hoffman, the acting attorney general of New Jersey, pointing out in sad detail just how delinquent the governor and the Legislature are in ensuring New Jersey’s children receive the schooling to which they are entitled by law.
“The failure to properly implement the SFRA formula violates the Education Clause of the New Jersey Constitution…as it conflicts with the Supreme Court’s rulings upholding the constitutionality of the SFRA…and, accordingly, must be immediately corrected to comply with those rulings.”
Sciarra, whose law firm represents the state’s poorest children, pointed out that Christie intends to ignore the operation of the law completely in doling out state school aid. It failed to run the formula to determine who gets what. It failed to adjust the various components of the law and to notify each school district—poor and rich alike—of those adjustments.
“Put simply,” Sciarra wrote. “the 2014-2015 formula aid notices were not based in any respect on the SFRA’s parameters.”
Put even more simply, Christie broke the law and the consequences are a damned sight more serious than driving with a broken tail-light. The state Supreme Court has spent a lot of time and published a lot of words telling this tone-deaf governor compliance with the school aid law is not optional.
“It is imperative that the State take immediate steps to bring implementation of the SFRA in 2014-2015 and future years into full compliance with the SFRA formula and (court) mandates,” Sciarra wrote. Among other things, the state education commissioner “must take all necessary steps to ensure the full funding of the SFRA formula.”
If the state doesn’t comply with the law, Sciarra warned, those representing the state’s poorest and most neglected school children “will have no alternative but to seek appropriate judicial relief.”
Whether you’re interested in schools or not, there is so much wrong with the way Christie treats this issue. He’s a law and order man who breaks the law and has the state attorney general act as his mouthpiece at taxpayers’ expense. Those out there who like to say things like, “If you commit the crime, you do the time” have carved out a major exception to this rule for Christie and people like him.
And, listen, laws can be repealed. But the state Constitution sets out a process for repealing laws—and it’s not a matter of some state dictator’s will. I don’t care how off on Christie some people get in this state—he, like you, me, and everyone else, doesn’t get a free pass from following the law.
What’s saddest of all is we are gradually losing the only instrument of justice left in New Jersey, the state Supreme Court. Christie will get rid of the chief justice, Stuart Rabner, and continue to pack the court, as he promised to do, with people who—God help us—think like him. The religious among us should pray daily for the continued good health of Justices Barry Albin and Jaynee LaVecchia because, once they (and Rabner) are gone, so is anything like justice. For everyone—most especially, black and brown and poor school children who most need the protection of an independent judiciary. Sciarra soon may well be arguing in front of a court whose members already had their minds made up for them simply by virtue of their appointment by this ideologically driven and awful governor.
But it’s all part of the plan to starve the urban schools of essential resources, make them fail, create a parallel track of privately operated charters and voucher schools that will have short-term, poorly-paid, non-tenured dilettantes instead of skilled and experienced teachers, and warehouse the neediest children in what’s left of neglected public schools. The billions of dollars that go into public education now can be more effectively used channeled to the friends of Chris Christie in the private sector
The affluent, whose views dominate the news, will be mostly exempt from this—except, of course, their taxes will be stabilized—because they can afford private schools that charge $36,000 a year in tuition. The public schools helped create American democracy—just what do you think will happen to that once those are gone? But, I guess, democracy, like fairness, and justice, and respect for the rule of law, is just so yesterday in Chris Christie’s New Jersey.