Now some supporters of school vouchers, frustrated with state legislators, are testing a new tactic: going to court. Last July a group of parents in New Jersey filed a lawsuit against the state and 25 poorly performing districts. In Crawford v Davy they are arguing that since public schools deny students their constitutional right to a proper education, the court should refund their money so they can spend it at any school they choose. This is not the first attempt to use courts to permit the use of vouchers: similar efforts failed in Illinois and California, for example. But in New Jersey, such a suit might actually succeed. New Jersey’s courts have no qualms about meddling in education—they have been doing so for decades.
In 1973 the New Jersey Supreme Court said the government was failing to provide poor children with the “thorough and efficient” education guaranteed by the state constitution, and that the school-funding formula must change. Since a 1985 case, Abbott v Burke, the court has issued rulings laying out its remedy in detail: the state must send more money to poor school-districts, so that their budgets match those of the state’s highest-spending areas.