Newark, NJ, October 26, 2006
A national report released today in Washington D.C. highlights New Jersey’s success in chipping away at the gap in expenditures for school construction between low and high wealth districts. The report credits the NJ Supreme Court’s landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings as sparking a wave of long overdue school facilities improvements in the State’s poorest communities, while simultaneously helping suburban districts move forward with their building projects.
According to the report, New Jersey’s progress towards ending the disparity in the quality of school facilities between affluent and high poverty districts stands out across the nation.
The Building Educational Success Together (BEST) partnership, a collaboration of national and local groups who combine diverse work to improve public education and communities through upgrades to public school facilities, published the report. Education Law Center is a member of the BEST partnership.
Entitled “Growth & Disparity: A Decade of Public School Construction 1995-2004,” the report is a groundbreaking effort to detail spending on programs around the country to improve school infrastructure. However the billions of dollars spent on facilities have not been equally available to affluent and low-income communities. New Jersey has been breaking this trend.
The report cites New Jersey as example of a state that began investing heavily in school facilities improvements in response to court intervention. A 1998 Supreme Court ruling led to the Legislature allocating $8.6 billion for school construction statewide in 2000.
Despite problems with the State school construction program, New Jersey is leading the way among the states in addressing systemic and longstanding inequities in funding for facilities. Although the report does not address the level of funding that is still needed in New Jersey to make all buildings safe and educationally adequate, it does demonstrate that the State has begun the long term process of addressing the needs of all districts.
Among the key findings of the report:
- Expenditures on public school construction in New Jersey increased significantly after 2000 – from $815 million in 2000 to over $2.5 billion in 2004.
- The construction expenditures in New Jersey’s high income districts averaged $8,548 per student.
- The construction expenditures averaged $7,795 per student in the low income districts and $7,777 in the moderately low income districts. The Abbott districts receive 100% funding for school facilities and fall into either of these two categories.
- The most noticeable disparity in the expenditure level is in moderate income districts. Although the expenditures on construction in these New Jersey districts is still above the national average, more work must be done to guarantee that these districts are able to benefit from the school construction program.
“Once again, the Abbott rulings have triggered positive action by the Legislature to modernize antiquated and unsafe facilities in our poorest districts, while addressing overcrowding and other needs in middle and more affluent districts,” said David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center. “As with school funding, New Jersey is a national leader in providing safe and adequate facilities for all children, regardless of the wealth of the community. We should all take pride in these findings,” he added.
ELC is one of the nation’s leading advocates for education equity, and serves as counsel to the urban school children in the Abbott v. Burke school funding case.
Education Law Center Press Contact:
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications