Supreme Court to invalidate the trial court's remedial order, in part on the grounds that it represented an unwarranted intrusion into matters reserved for the executive branch. On January 10, 1997, the Alabama Supreme Court rejected the state's appeal and gave the legislature until early 1998 to come up with its own remedial plan. Yet, as of the time of this writing, the state has still failed to come up with a plan. Perhaps the lower court will soon be compelled to order the implementation of the original remedy. If the New Jersey experience is any guide, however, this is not likely the end of the involvement of the Alabama courts.
In New Jersey, where the state supreme court pronouncements over years of school finance decisions have had both equity and adequacy overtones, plaintiff districts have continually returned to court complaining that the legislative response has been insufficient. A first back-and-forth battle was played out in the 1970s, and the court seemed finally satisfied. But in response to a subsequent lawsuit filed on behalf of some of the state's poorest urban school systems, the court in 1994 ordered the state to bring the spending levels in the plaintiff school systems—comprised of 29 poor urban districts—up to the level of the wealthiest school systems by the 1997-98 school year (Abbott, 1994). In addition, the court required the state to provide whatever supplemental services and resources are necessary to account for the extra educational needs associated with educating large numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In late 1996, New Jersey's legislature adopted the governor's proposed response to the court. At the heart of the new law is the notion that all schools should be funded at a level which allows them (and their students) to meet the state's education standards. The new scheme sets a base per-pupil figure (for regular education only) that claims to be sufficient to meet those standards. At the elementary level the amount is set at $6,720, at the middle school level it is $7,526, and at the high school level it is $8,064. In addition, the law provides supplemental aid to the state's poorest districts to assist them in meeting the needs of their at-risk student populations.
No sooner had the legislation passed, however, than state officials were back in court defending it. Plaintiffs claimed that the new law failed to satisfy the equity components of the court's prior school finance orders and therefore continued to violate constitutional standards. The plaintiffs also questioned the validity of the cost estimates used to set the base and supplemental funding amounts.
In a May 1997 decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs. The court faulted the new law primarily on the grounds that there was no "demonstrable relationship" between the amount of funds the state identified as necessary to provide a "thorough and efficient" education, and "the real needs of the disadvantaged children attending school in the special needs districts.'' Indeed, the court concluded that "[b]ecause the state never conducted [a] study … to determine the actual needs of children in the special needs districts, the aid