Demands State Provide Rural Students with Constitutional Funding and Preschool
Education Law Center, led by noted civil rights lawyer David Sciarra, has joined the legal team in Bacon, et al., v. NJ Department of Education, a long-running lawsuit challenging inadequate resources and funding for students in 16 southern New Jersey rural districts under the State Constitution.
On July 28, Mr. Sciarra and Millville, NJ, attorney Frederick Jacob sent a notice to acting NJ Attorney General John Jay Hoffman demanding compliance with a 2009 remedial order by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). The NJDOE ordered that students in the 16 rural districts receive full K-12 funding under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – the state’s landmark weighted student formula enacted in 2008. The NJDOE also ordered high quality, full-day preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the districts.
“The students in this case have waited long enough for the essential resources they need to succeed in school,” said Mr. Sciarra. “Governor Christie’s stubborn resistance to investing in our children leaves no alternative but to take appropriate legal action. We simply cannot stand idly by while the State continues to violate the education rights of students in some of the poorest communities in our state.”
“It’s time to ensure children in the Bacon districts receive a thorough and efficient education,” said Mr. Jacob, who has been certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Certified Civil Trial Attorney for more than 25 years and has represented school districts for over 35 years. “If the Attorney General does not respond to our request in a timely and appropriate manner, we will have no choice but to go back to court.”
After a lengthy trial in the Bacon lawsuit, the State Board of Education issued a ruling in 2006 finding that the right of students in the 16 districts to a “thorough and efficient” education guaranteed by the NJ Constitution was being violated.
In a March 2008 ruling, the NJ Appellate Court upheld the State Board’s ruling and directed the NJDOE to assess each district. In September 2009, the NJDOE determined that weighted student funding and universal, high quality preschool under the SFRA formula would remedy the constitutional violation and must be provided to each district.
Despite this order, the State failed to deliver the mandated funding and preschool programs. As a result, five years after the NJDOE order, the State continues to violate students’ constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education.
“For years, we have been asking for the resources our students need and deserve to achieve success under the State and Common Core standards,” said David Lindenmuth, Superintendent of the Clayton Public Schools, one of the Bacon districts. “Our schools are challenged by high poverty and mobility rates, but we continue to struggle with inadequate funding for teachers and staff, reduced class sizes, facilities, and preschool programs.”
Following enactment of the SFRA, the Bacon districts received increases in K-12 formula aid in 2008-09 and 2009-10. However, from 2011-12 through 2013-14, the districts did not receive any of the funding increases required by the formula. Even worse, Governor Chris Christie’s massive school aid cut in FY2011 wiped out prior year increases.
The Bacon districts will not receive a funding increase or any funds for full-day preschool programs under the SFRA formula again this year – a blatant violation of the 2009 NJDOE order.
Mr. Sciarra is among the nation’s leading civil rights lawyers and serves as lead counsel in the landmark Abbott v. Burke education rights case. He has led the ELC legal team in securing groundbreaking rulings requiring adequate school funding, school construction and comprehensive school reform, along with the nation’s first high court ruling establishing the right of three- and four-year-olds to high quality early education. The Abbott rulings on education rights are considered to be the most important in the United States since Brown v. Board of Education.
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