Sixteen poor rural districts have returned to court seeking an order directing the State to provide full funding for 2011-12 under NJ’s school aid formula, the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA).
Frederick Jacob, attorney for the districts, has asked the NJ Superior Court, Appellate Division, to enforce a March 2008 ruling directing the State to provide additional funding to address the severe disparities in resources and outcomes in public schools serving some of the poorest communities in the state.
This latest legal filing in the long-running Bacon v. NJ Department of Education case became necessary after Governor Christie in early July vetoed a budget passed by the Legislature that would have fully funded the rural districts, now commonly referred to as “Bacon districts.” The Governor’s veto also wiped out funding for another 200 moderate- and middle-income districts spending below “adequacy,” or the level determined necessary to provide a high quality education under the SFRA formula.
“The rural districts have been asking for many years for the resources they need to address educational deficiencies arising from intense poverty, high mobility rates, and other unique student characteristics,” said Mr. Jacob. “Their students and families have waited long enough. It’s time to ensure that children living in these districts receive a thorough and efficient education.”
The Appellate Court’s March 2008 ruling affirmed the State Board’s 2006 findings that the Bacon districts had proved their educational and fiscal circumstances “reflect conditions every bit as daunting as those in [poor urban] districts.” In reviewing the record before the State Board, the Court agreed the Bacon districts had “demonstrated a constitutional deprivation unchallenged” by the NJ Department of Education (DOE), as well as “an inability through local taxation” to raise sufficient funds to support quality education.
The Court also directed the NJDOE to assess “the unique set of circumstances confronting students of these poor rural districts that distinguish them from their urban counterparts,” and to determine if the newly enacted SFRA formula provides adequate funding to meet those needs.
In September 2009, the NJDOE issued the needs assessments, concluding that the SFRA formula would remedy the constitutional violation in the districts, particularly funding to expand the high quality Abbott preschool program there. In reaching this conclusion, the NJDOE assumed the Legislature and Governor would fully fund the SFRA formula for these districts.
The current motion rests on three assertions: the SFRA has not been fully funded since its enactment; most of the Bacon districts are spending under the adequacy level set by the SFRA formula; and the Supreme Court, in the May 2011 Abbott XXI ruling, ordered full funding of the SFRA for urban (Abbott) districts based on the same conditions that exist in the rural districts. Given the proven constitutional deprivation in the Bacon districts and the NJDOE’s commitment that the SFRA would provide the resources to address the past deprivation, the Bacon districts are asking the Appellate Court to order the State to fully fund their districts as well.
ELC, represented by co-counsel Lawrence S. Lustberg, Esq. of Gibbons, P.C., has served as amicus before the State Board and the Appellate Division in the Bacon case.
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