Governor Chris Christie’s alleged failure to follow funding procedures previously mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court has caused the plaintiffs in New Jersey’s long-pending school funding litigation, Abbott v. Burke, to once again ask the Court for relief. In Abbott XX, issued in 2009, the Court had upheld the constitutionality of the new state wide funding formula that had been developed by the former governor, Jon Corzine. At that time, the Court stipulated that the new formula had to be fully funded for at least three years. Soon after taking office, Gov. Christie reduced school funding below the constitutionally- validated levels, and in Abbott XXI, issued in 2011, the Court ordered him to restore funding for the 32 poor urban “Abbott” districts to the amounts called for in the formula.
In Abbott XXI the Court also directed the state to undertake a re-examination of the workings of the formula every three years to ensure that it “continues to operate in optimal fashion.” For this review, the governor, in consultation with the commissioner of education, is required to prepare a report to the legislature concerning his evaluation of the workings of the formula and recommend any necessary adjustments to the costs, weights, and other formula components for the next three years. In his report issued in 2012, Gov. Christie recommended certain inflation adjustments, but he also adjusted downward the at-risk, bilingual and combination per-pupil weights, as well as certain special education aid. After reviewing the report, the legislature passed a concurrent resolution rejecting the reductions in the weights and in special education aid.
Last year, the commissioner ignored the legislative resolution and based state aid allocations on the reduced weights and special education allocations. This year, according to plaintiffs, the commissioner ignored other aspects of the formula and gave school districts exactly the same level of formula aid as last year plus a flat $20 per student increase, without providing them any information regarding the adequacy amounts they would be entitled to under the formula.
Plaintiffs’ attorney, David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, is asking the Court to direct the commissioner to issue state aid notices by May 2, 2014 based on the maximum amount of state aid that would be allowed by the formula. “It is critical that the Court order the Commissioner to issue these notices forthwith so that district officials and parents know how much funding schools need to deliver State academic standards, and the amount of funding they should be receiving under the formula,” said Mr. Sciarra. “Legislators must have this information to evaluate the paltry $36 million school aid increase offered by the Governor and to decide how much additional aid to appropriate in the FY15 State budget to meet student needs.”
April 9, 2014