Educators have long been aware that conditions in school buildings directly affect readiness to learn, student achievement, teaching quality, access to rigorous curriculum, and other issues. Research confirms that students learn best in an environment that is healthy, comfortable, naturally lit, clean, and in good repair.
ELC’s advocacy has led to the creation of one of the largest and most comprehensive school construction programs in the nation. In the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, the New Jersey Supreme Court required that every school building in the State’s poorest urban districts be made safe, healthy, and educationally adequate. In 1998, the Court ordered the State of New Jersey to manage and fully fund a comprehensive plan to improve all school buildings in these districts. For the first time, the State assumed direct responsibility for the physical condition and educational adequacy of local preschool, primary and secondary school facilities.
In 2000, the Legislature adopted the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act (EFCFA) to implement the Abbott facilities mandates. In 2002, the State, through the Schools Development Authority (SDA; originally the Schools Construction Corporation), began financing new and renovated school construction projects statewide. Since 2002, over 100 new schools have been opened in urban districts, and a substantial number of health and safety repairs have been made to existing urban schools. In addition, the SDA has made hundreds of grants to support school construction projects in the remaining districts throughout the state. (Click here for a complete history of the program.)
In 2007, the New Jersey Legislature amended EFCFA to reform the governance structure of the SDA and make other program improvements, including delegating management of construction projects directly to urban districts. The SDA announced in 2005 that it had committed the first round of $8.6 billion in construction financing and that additional funding was required through authorization of the State Legislature. In 2008, following three separate actions filed by ELC to enforce the Abbott facilities order, the Legislature approved another $3.9 billion in school construction funding. As of 2010, the SDA has approximately $4 billion in unspent funds to continue needed projects.ELC continues to closely monitor implementation of the school construction program.
ELC is also a founding partner in the national initiative, Building Educational Success Together (BEST), led by the 21st Century School Fund. BEST works to secure the policy changes needed to improve facility conditions for students across the nation and to make schools the center of their communities.
ELC Publications on School Facilities
For more, visit the Publications page.
Dissertation: The Challenge of Building New Schools in New Jersey's Urban Districts, Robert Daniel (October 2013)
Interim Analysis of School Facility Funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, 21st Century School Fund (February 2010)
Economic Impacts of Planned School Construction Projects in New Jersey, Lahr & Fitchtner (July 2008)
Good Buildings, Better Schools: An Economic Stimulus Opportunity with Long-term Benefits, Economic Policy Institute (April 2008)
In Abbott v. Burke, the New Jersey Supreme Court required that every school building in the State’s poorest urban districts be made safe, healthy, and educationally adequate. In 1998, the Court ordered the State of New Jersey to manage and fully fund a comprehensive plan to improve all school buildings in these districts.
By 2005, the State had exhausted the first round of $6 billion in school construction funds approved by the Legislature to comply with the 1998 Abbott V decree. Costs had escalated, and hundreds of planned projects had been left without funding. In 2005 (Abbott VIII), the Supreme Court ordered the State to fund all costs of facilities remediation and construction.
From 2005 through 2007, plaintiffs filed three motions seeking an order to compel the Legislature to approve additional capital construction financing. In 2005, in Abbott XIV, the Court directed State education officials to report to the Legislature on the amount of funds necessary to undertake outstanding projects. In 2007, in Abbott XVII, the Court dismissed plaintiffs’ motion as “premature,” stating that the Court would not assume that the State “will fail to comply with their constitutional obligations” within the timeframes for adopting the annual State budget. Finally in 2008, in Abbott XVIII, the Court denied plaintiffs motion on the basis of Governor Corzine’s commitment to the Court that additional funds would be approved in the context of the annual State budget.
ELC News Stories on School Facilities
For a complete list of stories, visit the School Facilities section of the News Archives page.