Poor, rural school districts turn to courts for full funding under SFRA

TRENTON – Sixteen poor rural districts have returned to court seeking an order directing the state to provide full funding for this school year under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act.

Frederick Jacob, attorney for the districts, has asked the N.J. Superior Court, Appellate Division, to enforce a March 2008 ruling directing the state to provide additional funding to address the severe disparities in resources and outcomes in public schools serving some of the poorest communities in the state.

This latest legal filing was made after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the Democratic-sponsored budget this summer that would have fully funded the rural districts.

“The rural districts have been asking for many years for the resources they need to address educational deficiencies arising from intense poverty, high mobility rates, and other unique student characteristics,” Jacob said in a statement. “Their students and families have waited long enough. It’s time to ensure that children living in these districts receive a thorough and efficient education.”

The districts are Buena Regional, Clayton, Commercial, Egg Harbor City, Fairfield, Hammonton Township, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Lawrence, Little Egg Harbor, Maurice River, Ocean Township, Quinton, Upper Deerfield, Wallington, and Woodbine.

The Appellate Court’s March 2008 ruling affirmed the state board’s 2006 findings that these districts had proved their educational and fiscal circumstances “reflect conditions every bit as daunting as those in (poor urban) districts,” the group said. In reviewing the record before the state board, the court agreed the districts had “demonstrated a constitutional deprivation unchallenged” by the N.J. Department of Education, as well as “an inability through local taxation” to raise sufficient funds to support quality education, the group said.

In September 2009, the Department of Education issued the needs assessments, concluding that the School Funding Reform Act formula would remedy the constitutional violation in the districts, particularly funding to expand the high quality Abbott preschool program. In reaching this conclusion, the Education Department assumed the Legislature and Governor would fully fund the SFRA formula for these districts, according to the Education Law Center. Poor, rural school districts turn to courts for full funding under SFRA