After waiting six years, parents, students and districts in 16 rural communities have filed a complaint to enforce a 2009 New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) order for K-12 school funding and high quality preschool under the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA), the state’s landmark weighted funding formula.
The enforcement complaint was filed on September 15 in the Superior Court, Mercer County. Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson issued an Order to Show Cause setting a deadline of November 7 for the NJDOE to respond to the complaint. Judge Jacobson also set a court date of December 11 to hear argument from the parties.
The complaint is the latest effort by the Plaintiffs in Bacon v. NJ Department of Education to obtain relief to ensure all students in the 16 “Bacon districts” receive a “thorough and efficient” education, as guaranteed under the NJ Constitution.
In 2006, the NJ State Board of Education ruled that the education in Bacon districts was deficient and violated the State constitution. In 2008, an appellate court agreed and directed the NJDOE to assess whether the newly-enacted SFRA formula provided a remedy. In 2009, the NJDOE determined that the increases in K-12 funding and expansion of the nationally-acclaimed Abbott preschool program would, if implemented, provide the Bacon districts with the necessary tools to remedy the constitutional violation.
After two years of modest funding increases, Governor Chris Christie cut school aid in 2011, and his administration has provided none of the formula increases and no preschool expansion funding over the last four years. The Bacon districts are now underfunded by $18 million and an estimated 2,000 three- and four-year-olds cannot access high quality early education.
Education Law Center recently joined the litigation, with noted civil rights attorney David Sciarra leading the legal effort with certified civil trial attorney Fredrick Jacob of Millville. Mr. Jacob has represented the Bacon districts throughout the case.
Reactions to the Complaint Filing:
Dr. Peter Koza, Superintendent of the Upper Deerfield School District: “The children in our district cannot wait any longer. We need funding under the formula so we can provide them with the tools they need to succeed in school. One of those tools – high quality preschool – has been shown to benefit students well into their elementary years. It is our fervent hope that the State will be instructed to provide these needed resources to our district.”
Dr. C. Dan Blachford, Superintendent of Hammonton Public Schools: “Hammonton continues to be severely underfunded, and early this year the NJDOE sent us a letter stating we are under adequacy by $11,919,928. We only have a half-day preschool program, and this severely limits our ability to provide an effective education to students who are at risk. Furthermore, using the model district program, we should have 51 additional teachers and 12 additional administrators.”
Susan Cauldwell, Executive Director of Save Our Schools NJ Community Organizing: “All eyes are on the current round of the Bacon litigation. There are hundreds of other districts across the state that are waiting for the funding due them under the school funding formula, and that are entitled to high quality preschool under the formula. The Bacon districts deserve the resources they have been promised, and so do the rest of the NJ districts operating without the funding and preschool they are entitled to by law.”
Frederick Jacob, Co-Counsel: “Certainly the Bacon districts have waited long enough. We have gone to court to demand a remedy for the resource deficiencies in these districts that was decided on in 2009. It is long past time for implementation.”
David Sciarra, Co-Counsel: “Students and families in these impoverished districts have no alternative but to return to court to secure the thorough and efficient education to which they are entitled. The State’s continuing refusal to remedy the constitutional violation in these districts is unconscionable and can no longer be tolerated.”
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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