ELC wants full funding of school aid formula; state argues its dire fiscal condition is being ignored

The Education Law Center and other plaintiffs in the ongoing legal battle over school aid this week urged the N.J. Supreme Court to order the state to fully fund districts in accordance with a 2008 law.

The Christie Administration, on the other hand, argued that the plaintiffs are requesting something far beyond the scope of the Special Master findings.

The legal arguments in the wake of the Special Master finding last month that the state improperly underfunded the state’s poorest school districts continued with parties filing more briefs this week.

Specifically, the opposing sides filed responses to each other’s earlier arguments about what should happen next.

In its arguments this week to the state Supreme Court, the plaintiffs, including the ELC, summarized their position:

“The State’s brief in response to the Special Master’s Report is most notable for what it fails to say. Specifically, it does not – because it cannot – contest the Special Master’s conclusion.”

The plaintiffs argue that the Special Master made it clear: the state, due to a $1.6 billion reduction in aid, hurt schools, and at-risk districts in particular.

The ELC argues that the state does not challenge the Special Master findings, and therefore the court should adopt them as well.

The plaintiffs argue that the court should “enter an immediate order directing the state to fully implement the SFRA (School Funding Reform Act) formula, as enacted and approved by this court, by providing full funding for 2011-12 and two years thereafter, and by conducting in 2014 the statutorily required three-year review of the SFRA’s efficacy.”

However, the defendants – the Christie administration – argue that despite the other side’s attempt to turn the case into an open-ended discussion about future budget years, the case before the Special Master was limited to fiscal year 2011.

“Its scope did not permit the Special Master to consider uncontested proof that New Jersey’s fiscal crisis is perhaps the worst in its modern history,” the state argued.

The state further argues that the Administration and the Legislature worked together in good faith to enact a funding formula, and that the so-called Abbott districts received a smaller reduction in aid – 6.1 percent – than other groups.

The Administration argues that due to constitutional separation of powers, the court should defer to the efforts undertaken by Christie and the Legislature.

The defendants argued that the ELC is asking the court to take an unprecedented step by requesting it to order full funding over the next three school years.

Oral arguments will be heard by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

  ELC wants full funding of school aid formula; state argues its dire fiscal condition is being ignored