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Judge Orders More Spending on New Jersey's Education-Industrial Complex

New Jersey spends more money on education than almost any state, resulting in the nation's highest property taxes (and arguably the highest taxes overall). But to some New Jersey judges, the skyrocketing spending is never enough.

A New Jersey trial judge Tuesday declared unconstitutional the state’s recent attempts to scale back rapidly-rising education spending, "effectively tying Republican Governor Chris Christie’s hands on budget and education reform. Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne ruled that Christie’s budget cuts to school aid left public schools unable to provide a 'thorough and efficient' education to New Jersey children."

In his ruling, "Doyne even wrote that despite the 'significant increase in spending levels from 2000 to 2008,' some New Jersey districts are moving even further from adequate proficiency. His solution?" Force the state government to give them even "more money."

For the last 30 years, the New Jersey courts have been using the New Jersey State Constitution’s goal of a "thorough and efficient" educational system to force the state to increase education spending in ways that are anything but efficient. They have ordered that school systems in underperforming urban areas (often run by corrupt Democratic political machines) be given extra money -- which has led to huge amounts of waste without increasing student achievement.

Even weirder, these rulings -- known as Abbott v. Burke – have effectively been the product of the state suing itself. Law school clinics at places like Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, helped bring this lawsuit against the state -- even though state universities are themselves recognized as arms of the state for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment.

State law school clinics have often sued their own states over their school systems, public-housing projects, prison systems, and limits on welfare payments. These state legal clinics’ role in thwarting state policy is chronicled in concise and entertaining fashion in a recent book by legal commentator Walter Olson, who runs the world’s oldest law blog, Overlawyered.

In his just-released book Schools for Misrule, he describes how these lawsuits often harmed their alleged beneficiaries -- tenants, students, and prison inmates -- leading to more crime, fraud, and disorder in public housing, waste in education, and inconvenience, lost employment, or even danger for some prison inmates.

These clinics are funded partly by taxpayers and partly by wealthy liberal foundations, like the Ford Foundation, that deliberately thumb their noses at the wishes of the moderate and conservative donors who earlier set them up.

For example, Henry Ford II resigned from the board of the Ford Foundation after it spent hundreds of millions pushing left-wing causes and funding virtually all of the liberal legal foundations, like MALDEF and the National Women’s Law Center,  that fight welfare reform, sue businesses, and inundate the Supreme Court with liberal amicus briefs in any case involving “civil rights,” “discrimination,” education, or employment (which explains why the Supreme Court usually rules against businesses in discrimination cases).

More money doesn’t yield a better education, and there is “little correlation” between education spending and student learning. When a federal judge took over a Kansas City School District in the name of “desegregation” and then increased spending there by $2 billion, student achievement didn’t go up (although taxes did -- property taxes rose by 150 percent). Instead, the graduation rate fell as more students dropped out of school.

America spends more money on K-12 education than almost any other country (such spending increased "105 percent" from 1991 to 2005), but student achievement has stagnated.

I learned far less at Harvard Law School than I did as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, where per-student spending was far lower.