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N.J. Court Backs Gov.’s School Plan

May 22, 1998

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ Ending a 28-year battle, the New Jersey Supreme Court has backed Gov. Christine Whitman’s plan to improve failing urban schools without spending millions of extra dollars.

A court-appointed judge had called for $312 million in spending on programs ranging from full-day preschool and after-school arrangements to health and social services. The state balked.

And on Thursday, the court largely rejected the recommendations made by the judge, who was trying to determine what low-income children need to overcome disadvantages. The only supplemental program ordered by the court was half-day school for 3-year-olds.

Instead, the court put the burden on schools to prove they need programs, though it did order the state to continue providing parity funding so poor districts spend the same as the state’s richest ones.

The ruling sidesteps a threatened constitutional showdown in which legislators and Whitman said the court would overstep its boundaries if it ordered specific programs and classroom sizes.

``With this decision we are entering a new era of education that will benefit every child in the state,″ Whitman said. ``The important thing here is education, not just dollars.″

Though this case was filed in 1981, court battles over how much should be spent on poor schools have been waged for 28 years in New Jersey. The court has consistently said New Jersey’s system of school funding shortchanges poor children and last year ordered $246 million in extra funding.

Mary Fulton, a school funding analyst for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, said New Jersey’s school funding saga garnered national interest because ``no court has played this strong a role for such a long time.″

But with this ruling, the court exits the school funding debate after cajoling significant change and a much higher dollar commitment to poor schools.

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