Ten New Jersey School Districts filed an administrative petition with the State Commissioner of Education earlier this month, claiming that, on average, their districts in recent years have received less than half of the state aid to which they are entitled under the State’s School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) that was enacted in 2008, as a result of a court order in the long-pending Abbott v. Burke litigation (Board of Education of the town of Newton v. Harrington).
The Abbott v. Burke case involved 32 low wealth urban districts; over the years, the New Jersey Supreme Court had ordered substantial increases in funding for those urban districts. In 2008, the legislature enacted SFRA in an attempt to both settle the long-pending Abbott litigation and to provide equitable state aid increases to the many rural, suburban and small urban school districts that had not been covered by the case. For the past eight years–during Chris Christie’s entire tenure as governor–the state has failed to fully fund SFRA. When this first happened, the Abbott plaintiffs returned to the state Supreme Court and obtained an order that required the state to continue to pay the increases due to the 32 Abbott districts, but that order did not cover the hundreds of other districts in the state. Kingsway, one of the current petitioning districts, filed a motion with the state Supreme Court last year asking to allow them to join in the Abbott litigation, but the Supreme Court denied the motion and indicated that they should file a new claim in the trial court or through an administrative action.
The freeze on increases in state aid due under SFRA has particularly hurt fast-growing districts like Kingsway. Kingsway’s population growth has increased by more than 1,405 students over the last fifteen years, and the freeze on state aid has meant that state support for the district, which amounted to $5,280 per student, in 2001 was reduced to $3,770 in 2016-17, representing a 29% reduction in state aid per pupil over 15 years.