Last month, New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet upheld a decision by an administrative law judge dismissing claims of inadequate and inequitable funding that had been filed in early 2019 by eight school boards. The ruling was based on a finding that the petitioners lacked standing to sue.
The districts had challenged the impact on their state aid of S.2, a legislative enactment that was adopted to eliminate inequities in the state’s education funding formula that have occurred since the basic formula was enacted in 2008. The biggest change was the elimination of “adjustment aid” — money that districts had been receiving on top of their formula funding. When the formula was initially adopted more than a decade ago, certain municipalities were slated to lose funding. To soften the blow, they were provided adjustment aid, which has continued without reduction until the enactment of S.2.
The adjustments determined that about 30% of New Jersey public schools were being “overfunded” and would have their aid cut on a phase in basis for the next few years, while the other approximately 70% of the school districts have been slated to get a boost in school aid.
In rejecting the claims of the Brick schools, the lead plaintiff district, the Commissioner cited the district’s balanced budget. State law requires all school districts to submit balanced budgets. The district claimed that the Commissioner should have given more credence to the heavy cuts it needed to make in services to students in order to balance the budget.
Meanwhile, Jersey City, which chose to bring its complaint against the 2018 formula adjustments to the State Superior Court rather than to the Commissioner of Education, won a significant ruling from Judge Mary Jacobson of the Mercer County Superior Court. Jersey City claims that it stands to lose over $200 million over the next few years under the adjustments. The judge denied the state’s motion to dismiss Jersey City’s claim that the state should have filled the gap between the local tax levy and the district’s adequacy budget because of the city’s weak tax base. The adequacy budget is the amount the state says is necessary to provide a thorough and efficient education to every pupil, while the local fair share is the amount the state says local taxpayers should contribute to the education finance system that the state has adopted.