Where is Robin Hood when you need him?
A new report published by the Center for American Progress disclosed several cases where GOP-led legislatures attempted to punish judges who ordered the state to provide more funding for disadvantaged school districts.
Public schools receive most of their funding from local state property taxes, which naturally means that schools in districts with higher property taxes and wealthier residents receive much more funding than schools in lower-income areas.
Without assistance from the government, it could easily turn into the age-old tale of the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.
Most state constitutions specifically decree that all school-age children should receive adequate education, but in four states that provision wasn’t enough to keep legislators from attempting to keep money out of low-income districts.
In New Jersey, Alaska, Kansas and Washington, legislators tried to stop all funding for the courts or restrict the authority judges have over distributing financial resources.
New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie has already been in serious hot water during his term, and this was no exception.
According to the report, the New Jersey governor “threw a respected justice off the bench by denying him tenure” in what some have deemed an “unprecedented power grab.” The incident was Christie’s response to the Supreme Court ruling that his 2010 budget cuts to education were unconstitutional.
In Kansas, a high-profile case that involved school funding brought Republican Governor Sam Brownback some trouble back in January.
Brownback “warned that an order for a specific funding increase could lead lawmakers to consider a constitutional amendment to change the way that high court justices are appointed,” as the courts were still trying to reach a verdict in the case.
Despite his attempt to intimidate the judges, a court ruling still favored equal and fair education.
The Kansas Supreme Court found the state’s funding system at the time was unconstitutional and immediately ordered the reversal of previous budget cuts.
Billy Corriher, the author behind the report and the director of research for legal progress at American Progress, explained what made the findings so troubling.
“If you have judges out there who know that legislators are going to try to kick them off the bench or try to change the way they’re appointed or limit their authority if they rule a certain way, that judge might be hesitant to make the legislator angry,” Corriher told the Huffington Post.
It is ultimately a huge threat to the system of checks and balances that serves as the foundation for America’s justice system.
“[Legislators] feel like any time a court orders more money, the court is violating the separation of powers…But if the courts aren’t able to judge the legislature then we are letting the legislature be the judge for itself,” Corriher added.
There are currently several other cases in state courts that address the issue of school funding and unequal education.