Newark NJ — June 8, 2010
New Jersey public school children today requested the NJ Supreme Court to enforce its May 2009 Abbott decision upholding the State’s funding formula, the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, or SFRA. Click here for court filing.
In that ruling, the Court allowed the SFRA to go into effect throughout the state, but made clear that the formula must be fully funded. “Our finding of constitutionality is premised on the expectation that the State will continue to provide school funding aid during this and the next two years at the levels required by SFRA’s formula each year,” the Court wrote.
The current legal action is compelled by Governor Chris Christie’s unprecedented $1.08 billion, or 13.6%, cut in State aid in 2010-11. The Governor’s aid cut reduces State funding below the levels required by the SFRA formula in 2010-11, and far below the funding amounts actually provided under the SFRA formula in the current (2009-10) school year.
The school children claim that the massive cut in State formula aid deprives all New Jersey children — particularly vulnerable, “at-risk” children — of a thorough and efficient education because, as the State argued and the Supreme Court held, the SFRA’s funding levels are based on what is needed to achieve the State’s academic and performance standards that now define a constitutional education.
The dramatic aid cut has forced school districts across the state to severely slash their budgets by laying-off teachers and support staff, and reducing or ending vital programs and services for next year.
The sheer magnitude of the aid cut has devastated all components of districts’ educational programs, including the core curriculum (regular education) and special education for children with disabilities. Tutoring, security, health services and other sorely needed programs for at-risk students in high need districts — a key feature of the SFRA formula — have also been cut back or eliminated.
The substantial cuts in critically-needed staff and programs are occurring at the same time as the performance of New Jersey students ranks among the nation’s best, and the Garden State has gained national prominence for gains among low-income and minority student subgroups.
“Our Constitution, and the Court ruling, require that every student, regardless of where he or she lives, receives funding at the amount the State itself says is needed to succeed in school,” said David Sciarra, attorney for the school children. “As the Court has said, ‘every child should have the opportunity to become a productive and contributing citizen,’ even ‘during difficult economic times when there is extreme pressure on State resources.’ The State, by its devastating aid cut, is disregarding the law and putting the future of our students and state at risk,” he added.
The school children initiated this action after the Attorney General declined efforts by their lawyers to discuss the State’s voluntary compliance with the Court’s decision. Lawrence S. Lustberg, co-counsel for the students, said that “we had hoped to avoid litigation by reaching out to the State, but those overtures were rejected. At this point, we have no alternative other than to ask the Court to enforce its decision that the SFRA formula be fully funded.”
The students are also asking the Court to block the State from reviewing and recommending changes in the SFRA formula, as required by the SFRA statute, until the State can demonstrate that it has fully funded and implemented the formula.
Education Law Center Press Contact:
David G. Sciarra
voice: 973 624-1815 x16
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications