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ELC PRESSES STATE TO COMPLY WITH ABBOTT v. BURKE SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION MANDATE

November 15, 2018

Education Law Center is again requesting that the New Jersey Attorney General ensure the Schools Development Authority (SDA) and NJ Department of Education (DOE) comply with the NJ Supreme Court’s Abbott v. Burke mandates requiring the State to update its strategic prioritization plan and provide cost estimates for the next round of school construction projects in the thirty-one urban, or “SDA,” districts. The plan and cost estimates are essential to inform the Legislature of the additional funding needed to continue the Abbott school construction program.   

ELC’s demand is set forth in a November 13, 2018 letter to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal sent on behalf of the plaintiff school children in the landmark Abbott litigation. ELC serves as the plaintiffs’ counsel.

In the letter, ELC underscores the urgent need for State compliance. The SDA has spent or committed all of the $2.9 billion in financing authorized by the Legislature in 2008. In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee in April, former SDA CEO Charles McKenna not only confirmed that all of the remaining funds have been committed to current projects, but also that the authority will completely exhaust all funding within four to five years.  

As a result, the SDA is unable to address the substantial needs identified in the SDA districts’ Long-Range Facilities Plans (LRFP)– including 200 major school renovation projects and 102 new school buildings – or the critical space deficiencies identified in the DOE’s 2016 Educational Facilities Needs Assessment.  

ELC is requesting the Attorney General to direct the SDA and DOE to immediately update the “statewide strategic plan” to prioritize the projects identified in the districts’ LRFPs and the DOE’s needs assessment for financing and construction. The plan must also include cost estimates for the projects identified in the plan.

In the Abbott litigation, the Supreme Court ruled that adequate school facilities are a critical component of the State’s constitutional obligation to provide students in SDA districts a "thorough and efficient" education.

In a 2005 Abbott ruling, the Court made clear that the State  has an ongoing constitutional obligation to regularly update school construction priorities and cost estimates in the SDA districts to ensure all parties have “the requisite information to assess the progress of school facilities construction and the need for further appropriations.” The Court also made clear that such information is crucial for the State to provide “effective managerial responsibility over school construction” and ensure that school construction advances in a “predicable and uniform manner.”

“We stand ready to work with the Attorney General, and the SDA and DOE, to quickly prepare a plan for the next round of school construction projects in urban districts,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and lead counsel for the Abbott plaintiffs. “If such action is not forthcoming, we’ll have no alternative but to seek appropriate relief from the Supreme Court as we have done in the past.”

 

Related Stories:

TIME TO REPLENISH FUNDING FOR NEW JERSEY’S SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION PROGRAM

SDA DISTRICTS LACK FACILITIES CAPACITY TO MEET STUDENT NEEDS

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24