Supreme Court Approves Revised School Funding Formula

STATE – New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled last week that Gov. Corzine’s revised school aid formula can replace the system instituted by the Abbott school funding case that has sent billions to 31 city school districts during the past 30 years.

The court unanimously ruled that the School Funding Reform Act adopted by lawmakers last year is “a constitutionally adequate scheme.”

Earlier this spring, state Attorney General Anne Milgram told the court that the revised formula spreads money based on “children’s needs, not children’s zip codes.”

The court’s opinion, written by Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, places a condition on the ruling: the system must be reviewed for fairness in three years.

“There is no absolute guarantee that (the revised funding plan) will achieve the results desired by all,” the opinion states. “The political branches of government, however, are entitled to take reasoned steps, even if the outcome cannot be assured, to address the pressing social, economic and educational challenges confronting our state.”

The state Supreme Court had previously ordered that New Jersey’s poorest communities be funded on par with the most affluent. The new plan distributes school aid money based on enrollment, with additional funding going to districts with high concentrations of students who are poor, have special needs or have limited English skills.

“The new school funding formula recognizes that in addition to the children living in the 31 so-called ‘Abbott’ districts, there is a universe of low-income students among the other school districts,” said state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), sponsor of the state’s new school funding formula.

“In fact, nearly half of the low-income, special needs children in the state live in districts other than the Abbott districts. We enacted a school funding law that takes this into account and ensures the money the state provides for education finds its way to the students who need it, regardless of where they live.”

Not everyone is convinced that the court decision represents a victory for New Jersey’s school children.

“We are deeply concerned that the (School Funding Reform Act) formula will quickly return New Jersey to the unequal school system we had in the past, and undo a decade of measurable educational improvements for our poorest school children,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark.

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