Trenton, NJ – Attorneys for students in 16 poor, rural, New Jersey school districts appeared before Superior Court Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson in Trenton today seeking to enforce 2009 decisions by the State Education Commissioner mandating the districts receive K-12 funding and high quality preschool under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the state’s landmark weighted student funding formula.
This latest proceeding comes in Bacon v. NJ Department of Education, a lawsuit filed in 1998 by students in 16 small, high poverty school districts in Southern New Jersey.
In a 2006 ruling, the NJ State Board of Education found that the education and funding in these districts was so inadequate that it violated district students’ right to a “thorough and efficient” education under the New Jersey Constitution. In a 2008 ruling, an appeals court upheld the State Board’s ruling and remanded to the State Education Commissioner to determine whether the newly enacted weighted student funding formula – the SFRA – provided the resources necessary to remedy the constitutional violation.
In 2009, the State Education Commissioner issued “needs assessments” of each district, determining that the increase in K-12 funding and the expansion of high quality preschool for all three- and four-year-olds under the SFRA formula would address the districts’ needs and enable them to improve educational opportunities for all students. The Commissioner recognized that the districts received funding increases under the SFRA formula during the first two years of implementation.
In 2010-11, Governor Christie cut over $1 billion in state funding from the SFRA formula, effectively wiping out the increases received by the districts. Since 2012, the Christie Administration has not restored the cut, nor provided any of the increases in K-12 and preschool funding required by the formula.
In September, the “Bacon district” students filed a complaint to enforce the State Education Commissioner’s 2009 determination that funding under the SFRA formula provides a remedy for the inadequate funding and education found by the State Board in 2006.
Before Judge Jacobson, David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director, argued that the Commissioner’s 2009 determination of SFRA funding and preschool must be promptly enforced to ensure students in the Bacon districts are provided the resources necessary for a thorough and efficient education. Attorney for the Bacon districts, Frederick Jacob, joined Mr. Sciarra.
Mr. Sciarra also urged Judge Jacobson to order the NJ Department of Education to promptly calculate the funding required under the formula in 2014-15 for the Bacon districts and then to request a supplemental appropriation from the Legislature. Mr. Sciarra also asked for an order to launch expanded preschool programs beginning in the 2015-16 school year.
ELC estimates the Bacon districts have been shortchanged $18.5 million in K-12 funding and have approximately 2,000 3- and 4-year-olds in need of preschool.
Judge Jacobson informed she will issue a ruling, but did not provide a specific timeframe.
Detailed information about the Bacon case is available on the ELC website, including a list of the 16 districts, a timeline, and legal documents.
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