Abbott districts will ask the State Supreme Court to overturn an Appellate Court ruling sanctioning the failure of the NJ Department of Education to fully fund the Abbott preschool program. The ruling, issued March 12th, allows the NJ DOE to force an estimated 15 districts to divert approximately $18 million in funding from K-12 education to support preschool programs for three- and four-year olds.

Education Law Center (ELC) will support the districts in their request to have the high Court review the ruling.

At issue in the case is the Supreme Court’s mandate in the Abbott V (1998) ruling mandating universal preschool in the Abbott districts, and the requirement that the State ensure the program is adequately funded. In 2002-03, NJDOE provided half of the Abbott districts enough state preschool aid to fully fund their programs. However, the other half received less than their approved pre-K budget. The NJDOE then ordered these district to use “local revenues” to make up the shortfall, even though all local revenues must be used to support the K-12 education program.

In upholding this funding order, the Appellate Court found that “the State is not mandated [under Abbott V] to exclusively fund preschool in the Abbott districts and that local resources, if available, may be allocated for such purposes.”

“The Appellate Court just got it wrong,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director, and counsel in the Abbott case. “The Legislature mandates that all local revenue raised by Abbott districts be used to support “parity” foundation funding for K-12 students in the Abbott districts. The same revenue can’t support two separate programs at the same time. Local revenue is simply not available for preschool,” he added.

Millville, Pemberton, Neptune and Phillipsburg are leading the legal challenge by the districts. Richard Shapiro represents the districts in this case.

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