Rural Districts in New Jersey Fight Budget Cuts

in New Jersey, NEWS FROM THE ACCESS NETWORK

Since 1997, a group of rural districts in New Jersey have been alleging that their students have been denied the “thorough and efficient” education guaranteed to them by the New Jersey constitution. Accordingly, they claim that they are entitled to remedies comparable to those afforded the 31 urban districts covered by the court rulings in Abbott v. Burke. In 2008, the  Superior Court, Appellate Division, confirmed that there had been a constitutional violation. However, in light of the fact that the state legislature had recently enacted the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), which purportedly was enacted in part to provide funding equity for rural districts, the court remanded the matter to the state commissioner of education to undertake an individual needs assessment of each of the plaintiff districts and to determine whether SFRA funding would cure the constitutional violations. 942 A.2d at 837 brief.

In September 2009, the commissioner issued a report holding that the SFRA formula would remedy the constitutional violation in each of the districts. This holding was premised on the assumption that the legislature and the governor would fully fund the SFRA formula for these districts.

In 2010, after Governor Chris Christie and the legislature failed to provide the level of funding called for under SFRA, the Abbott plaintiffs sought relief from the New Jersey Supreme Court. Although they sought to reinstate full SFRA funding for all school districts in the state, the court, in an order issued in May, 2011, limited its order for funding reinstatement to the original Abbott plaintiffs ( i.e. the 31 urban Abbott districts). Abbott XXI. The Bacon districts have now filed a motion in the Appellate Division, asking that they be accorded the same relief that the Abbott districts obtained. They argue that they, like their urban counterparts, have been denied a “thorough and efficient education” and that being similarly situated, they also are entitled to have the full amount of their promised SFRA funding reinstated.

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