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Nearly All Abbott Districts Appeal Department of Education Budget Caps

On June 10, 2003, the Education Law Center (ELC), attorneys for the plaintiffs in New Jersey's long-running Abbott v. Burke litigation, announced that 23 out of the 30 Abbott districts are appealing the state Department of Education's decision to cap their budgets for the 2003-2004 school year. By June 10, the appeals had been assigned to an Administrative Law Judge and were to be dealt with on an expedited schedule set by the Supreme Court.

Abbott districts are the 30 high-need, low-wealth urban districts whose budgets the state Supreme Court oversees as a result of Abbott v. Burke. These are: Asbury Park, Bridgeton, Burlington City, Camden, East Orange, Elizabeth, Garfield, Gloucester City, Harrison, Irvington, Jersey City, Hoboken, Keansburg, Long Branch, Millville, Neptune, New Brunswick, Newark, Orange, Passaic, Paterson, Pemberton, Perth Amboy, Phillipsburg, Plainfield, Pleasantville, Trenton, Union City, Vineland, and West New York. Together, they educate approximately 25% of the state's students.

All of the districts except for Bridgeton, Hoboken, Perth Amboy, West New York, and Union City asked the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) for "supplemental" programs and funds in their 2003-2004 budgets. These "supplemental" programs, which the ELC considers essential to an adequate education, include programs outside the classroom, such as reading tutors, school nurses, social workers, guidance counselors, and summer programs. On May 30, the DOE announced its intention to cap the budgets, an action that it is asking the Supreme Court to authorize. All of the districts that requested "supplemental" programs, except for Long Branch and Garfield, claim that the caps will prevent them from implementing or continuing needed programs, services, and positions.

The DOE decision and ELC appeal are part of a larger effort by the DOE to have more flexibility regarding the Abbot districts, including options for eliminating certain Abbott V-ordered programs that the DOE claims are not working--an assertion that ELC vigorously disputes. On April 29, the Supreme Court ordered the parties into mediation with state Appellate Court Judge Philip S. Carchman to settle this dispute. The Court set a May 30 deadline for Judge Carchman to report any unresolved issues. The report has been filed with the Court (but not yet open to the public), and the Court's decision is pending.

Prepared June 13, 2003