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NJ School District Files New Adequacy Suit

Freehold Borough, one of the most underfunded school districts in New Jersey, filed a suit earlier this month against the state Department of Education and its commissioner to demand more state aid. For the fiscal year 2017, the district claims that it received at least $9.56 million less than it is entitled to under the state’s school funding formula.

In 2008, in order to finally resolve the long-pending Abbott v. Burke law suit, the New Jersey legislature had adopted a School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) that included a formula for providing sufficient and equitable funding for all school districts in the State. The New Jersey Supreme Court approved that formula as providing sufficient funding to satisfy students’ constitutional rights to a “thorough and efficient” education. In 2010, however, the newly-elected governor, Chris Christie refused to provide the funding increases due under the SFRA formula and the Abbott plaintiffs returned to court. Although the Abbott plaintiffs 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 (the 31 urban Abbott districts). (For a history of the Abbott litigation and links to the major decisions, see our New Jersey Litigation page.

Although the SFRA increases for the Abbott districts have been provided since 2011, funding levels for all other districts, including Freehold Borough, (constituting a majority of the districts throughout the state) have essentially been frozen for the past six years. Earlier this year, the Kingsway Regional School District filed a petition to reopen the Abbott v. Burke litigation and allow it to intervene in that case. The district was informed by the court clerk, however that there was “no basis” for Kingsway to file a motion in the landmark case, since it was not a party to the suit. Kingsway was advised if it wanted to proceed with legal action to initiate a new case in the state trial court. That is what Freehold Borough has now done.

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