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School Facilities

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.)

Current Issues

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

Safe and Adequate: Using Litigation to Address Inadequate K-12 School Facilities (July 2006)

Long Range Facilities Planning and Design Implementation for Students with Disabilities: A Guide for New Jersey School Districts (September 2005)

Breaking Ground: Rebuilding New Jersey's Urban Schools (April 2004)

Report on the NJ Department of Education Proposed Regulations on Long Range Facilities Plans (February 2004)

For more, visit the Publications page.

Additional Resources

Regulations/Reports

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Significant Cases

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.