Following an emergency meeting in late January, the Schools Development Authority (SDA) approved and released a new Statewide Strategic Plan identifying the next group of priority school facilities projects to be financed by the State through New Jersey’s school construction program.

The plan was finalized in response to Education Law Center’s application with the New Jersey Supreme Court to enforce the Court’s 1998 ruling in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation ordering the State to fully fund school facilities improvements in 31 poor urban, or “SDA,” districts.

The ELC application asked the Court to direct the Commissioner of Education and the SDA to: 1) revise and submit to the Legislature a statewide school construction plan of priority projects as required under the Education Facilities Construction and Financing Act (EFCFA), and 2) promptly seek and secure from the Legislature the school construction funding necessary to undertake and complete the projects in the plan.

The SDA’s recently released plan identifies 24 projects in 18 districts for “first tranche advancement” based on three general criteria: 1) educational capacity or overcrowding; 2) building age and condition; and 3) logistical factors, including land availability and SDA construction capacity.

Because they are situated on land under SDA or district control, 16 of the 24 projects are construction ready, including:

  • Two new preschool-grade 5 schools in Garfield
  • A high school addition and renovation in Paterson
  • Three addition and/or renovation projects serving all grade levels in Bridgeton
  • One new high school in Passaic City
  • One new preschool-grade 5 school in Pleasantville
  • One new preschool in Perth Amboy
  • One new preschool in Jersey City
  • One new preschool-grade 8 school in West New York
  • Two replacement preschool-grade 8 schools in Camden
  • Two replacement preschool-grade 8 schools in Newark
  • One replacement preschool-grade 8 school in Salem City

The eight additional projects identified in the plan – covering Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Orange, Union City, Plainfield, East Orange and Trenton – will be “sequenced with other portfolio projects” once appropriate sites are identified.

Although the State has completed the new statewide construction plan, it has yet to estimate the cost of the projects in the plan or make a commitment to seek and secure from the Legislature the funding to complete the projects.

“While the plan is a crucial first step, we expect Governor Murphy and his administration to promptly request – and seek to secure – the necessary construction funding from the Legislature no later than June 30,”said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and lead counsel for the plaintiff school children in the Abbott v. Burke case. “Some of these projects have been on the books for years. It would be intolerable to continue to relegate thousands of urban students to schools that are unsafe, overcrowded and inadequate to deliver a thorough and efficient education as our Constitution requires.”

In response to the Supreme Court’s 1998 facilities order, the State has repaired, renovated or replaced many dilapidated and outmoded school buildings in urban communities across the State through the Abbott school construction program. Even so, over 300 urban schools remain in need of remediation.

Through a companion grant program, the State has also contributed to financing hundreds of facilities improvement projects in Regular Operating Districts (ROD) in suburban, coastal, rural and high need districts statewide.

According to ELC Attorney Theresa Luhm, “It is essential the State move to secure financing as quickly as possible because the SDA has exhausted all of its previously authorized school construction funding, including the $3.9 billion approved by Legislature in 2008.

None of the urgently needed projects identified in the Strategic Plan can move forward until funding is in place.”

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240