On June 30th, Governor McGreevey signed a bill designating the Salem City public schools as the 31st Abbott district. The Assembly and Senate passed the bill, sponsored by Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Douglas Fisher and Senator Stephen Sweeney, earlier this month.

The law implements a February 2003 decision by Commissioner William Librera in Bacon v. NJ Department of Education, a complaint filed by a group of poor rural districts seeking Abbott status. Commissioner Librera upheld the findings of an Administrative Law Judge recommending Salem City for Abbott designation, but reversed the ALJ’s rulings on several other districts.

The Salem City district has an enrollment of 1,433 K-12 students, 73.8% of which are minority and 72.4% are low income.

As an Abbott district, Salem is entitled to the remedies ordered by the NJ Supreme Court in the Abbott rulings, including K-12 foundation funding at the per-pupil level spent in successful suburban districts; universal preschool for all three and four year olds; K-12 supplemental programs and funding; and state funding for all facilities improvements. The Legislature estimates that $3.9 million in state aid is needed for foundation funding “parity” in Salem, but the cost of the other Abbott remedies has yet to be determined.

“We are pleased that Salem will now receive the resources needed to provide a high quality education for all students,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and Abbott Counsel.

Mr. Sciarra also called on the NJ State Board of Education to “quit stalling” on the other poor rural districts in the Bacon case. These districts appealed the Commissioner’s rejection of Abbott status, and the appeal has been pending before the State Board for almost a year. In a brief filed with the State Board, ELC argues that the Woodbine, Commercial, Lawrence (Cumberland County), Fairfield. and Egg Harbor City districts clearly meet the standards for Abbott given their high poverty rates, low property wealth and persistent educational failure.

“The State Board has a history of denying justice through delay. It is unconscionable that the State Board, after almost a full year, has yet to issue its decision,” Mr. Sciarra added.

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Sharon Krengel
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