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NJ Supreme Court Hands Teachers Union Huge Victory Denies Christie Request on Abbott Schools Ruling

Ridgewood EA teachers protest

February 1,2017

the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Newark NJ, in a statement from the Partnership for Educational Justice comments on the New Jersey Supreme Court’s denial of State motion to re-open Abbott v. Burke.

The New Jersey Supreme Court today denied the State’s September 2016 motion to re-open the decades-old school funding lawsuit, Abbott v. Burke. As part of their broad motion, the State had asked the court to grant the State Commissioner of Education – a political appointee – the authority to waive enforcement of the State’s “last in, first out” (LIFO) teacher layoff law, among other education laws and negotiated policies.

In response to the State’s motion, six Newark parents also filed a motion with the Supreme Court against the State’s legal tactics to address LIFO. These same parents instead are fighting the LIFO statute on its own in the trial court. Their case, HG v. Harrington, asserts that New Jersey’s quality-blind LIFO law violates students’ constitutional right to a “thorough and efficient” education by allowing ineffective teachers to remain in classrooms while effective teachers are let go. The plaintiff families have asked the court to declare LIFO unconstitutional and render it unenforceable in Newark and similar districts.

The Supreme Court’s denial of the State’s motion today means that the lawsuit filed in November by six Newark parents is the only case pending to address New Jersey’s outdated LIFO statute.

The following is a statement by Ralia Polechronis, Executive Director of Partnership for Educational Justice:

“This ruling is a big win for New Jersey parents and schoolchildren. The Supreme Court has echoed the position of a group of Newark parents, who argued to this court that the state’s unjust quality-blind teacher layoff law must be evaluated on its own, and not in connection with a decades-old school funding lawsuit. Concerned about looming school budget cuts, these same parents – the plaintiffs in HG v. Harrington – will continue their fight in the state’s trial court to invalidate the “last in, first out” law that prevents the retention of Newark’s best teachers during funding crises. These brave parents are leading the charge for students’ rights in New Jersey, and they will not back down until the harmful impact of this law is revealed and deemed unconstitutional.”
To learn more about HG v. Harrington, the parent-led lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s “last in, first out” teacher layoff law, please go to To read all legal filings related to HG v. Harrington, click here.

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The Fairness Formula is the Future of Education Funding

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi

By Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi

Many people in New Jersey do not understand the archaic formulas which drive state funding for our schools and the vastly different property tax results in our respective municipalities. Under the New Jersey Constitution, it is mandated that students be provided a thorough and efficient education. That phrase has been thrown around conveniently in defense of an inequitable formula that is too expensive to fund with results that scream failure. New Jersey needs a fair funding formula that fixes the problem, and Bergen taxpayers need real property tax relief.

A few weeks ago, Governor Christie proposed a formula that would provide equal funding on a per student basis. This new formula, called the fairness formula, is nearly identical to what I have introduced since 2012. The majority in the legislature wants to continue with a failed system, which has disproportionately and negatively impacted 69 out of 70 communities in Bergen County. What the Governor and I have proposed will fix the problem.

Under the proposed fairness formula, state aid would be $6,599 per pupil with additional funding provided for students with special needs. No student will be regarded as worth more than another. The state has thrown billions of dollars at underperforming districts for years and the situation hasn’t improved. The time is now that we face reality and provide fair funding for every student in the state and stop strangling taxpayers to fund failure.

One of those former Abbott districts is Passaic City. With only around 10,000 public students, it receives more money than all 70 municipalities combined in Bergen, which has approximately 250,000 students. Further, overfunded municipalities often use that money to pay for things other than students, such as Elizabeth which in 2015 spent more per student on legal and consulting fees ($237 per pupil) than on textbooks and supplies.

In comparison, Pascack Valley Regional High School District is rated the eighth best school district in New Jersey with a graduation rate of 98 percent, while receiving only $550 per student (a number only slightly higher than what Elizabeth spent on legal and consulting fees). The average property tax in Bergen County is well over $11,000. As a result of these increasingly high property taxes, Bergen County has found itself in recent years with one of the highest rates of foreclosures, pre-foreclosures and personal bankruptcies. On the flip side, Camden High School has only a 46 percent graduation rate and yet receives over $30,000 per student. The average property tax in Camden County is only slightly over $6,000. Other than a handful of exceptions, towns in Bergen and Passaic counties have carried the brunt of increasing property taxes, yet they have received the least amount of funding in the entire state.

This lopsided school funding formula is indefensible. Bergen and Passaic homeowners are paying sky high property taxes to fund a school district on the opposite side of the state that can’t graduate half of its students. What makes the students in Camden worth sixty-times more than a student who goes to Pascack Valley or any other school district in Bergen or Passaic? What makes 10,000 school age children in Passaic more valuable than every school district in Bergen County combined? The answer: court mandates on how the state should spend its money.

The state Supreme Court ruled in the Abbott v. Burke decisions that most money should be distributed to districts that have demonstrated an inability to provide educational excellence. The consequence has been diverting money from districts that pay through the nose for education to districts that don’t; such as Bergen paying for Camden. Diverting these funds has resulted in higher property taxes for districts that want to maintain the educational excellence they have achieved. In some cases the towns with diverted funds have large retiree populations, robbing senior citizens of their savings and the value of their homes.

The Corzine school funding formula the court approved has resulted in failure. The court ruled that nearly sixty percent of school funding provided to only 5 percent of school districts satisfies a constitutionally thorough and efficient education. This unfair formula has increased property taxes across the state and has failed to effectively educate the students in districts that cost the most taxpayer dollars. All the while, student enrollment in the former Abbott districts has decreased as funding has increased.

When schools are funded on a per pupil basis, taxpayers benefit. School funding will increase nearly 500 percent in Bergen and Passaic with the fairness formula, while average property taxes will be reduced by over $2,000. When schools aren’t funded on a per pupil basis, $5.1 billion goes to 31 districts and $4 billion goes to 546 districts. The fairness formula will equitably spend $9.1 billion across all 577 districts, without any property tax discrimination based on educational excellence. Any legislator representing these counties who does not support this fair and balanced approach is failing to represent their own constituents.

Providing funding equally on a per pupil basis will level out the playing field and decrease property taxes across the state. Extra aid will only be provided to make sure we take care of our special education students who need the extra help to get by. Three out of four school districts in the entire state would see an increase in aid, 69 out of 70 municipalities in Bergen County would see an increase in aid. That means 69 Bergen County towns will see a reduction in property taxes, providing much needed relief.

The current school funding formula has been a disaster that drives up property taxes and does nothing to help failing school districts reverse the course. The fairness formula will provide fair funding. Opponents to the idea will holler that it is unconstitutional. If that is their only concern, I have sponsored a resolution since 2012 (ACR35) amending the constitution to provide a thorough and efficient education on a per pupil basis. The current formula is an indefensible failure, if the constitution is the only concern, then pass my resolution and the fairness formula.