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ELC FILES SUIT TO COMPEL STATE TO EVALUATE ABBOTT AND SET PROGRESS BENCHMARKS

Newark, NJ – July 10, 2007

Education Law Center has filed suit seeking to compel the State Education Department to fulfill a longstanding Supreme Court mandate to evaluate the Abbott reforms and set progress benchmarks for Abbott districts.

The suit was filed last Friday with Judge Linda Feinberg, Superior Court, Mercer County, on behalf of the students in New Jersey’s 31 high poverty urban districts. ELC serves as legal representative to the class of more than 300,000 urban school children in the landmark Abbott v. Burke education equity case.

The suit, citing the State’s repeated failure to implement a formal evaluation of the Abbott program, asks for an order directing the DOE, within 60 days, to:

  • Prepare a detailed work plan and schedule for undertaking and completing the evaluation of Abbott reforms, and
  • Complete and adopt progress benchmarks for Abbott districts.

ELC Attorney Theresa Luhm said that, "the Department’s continued inaction is inexcusable. We have continuously asked the agency to implement the mandated evaluation yet, after almost nine years, there still is no progress. We hope that this legal action will spur the Department to act quickly and effectively."

Nine years have elapsed since the landmark 1998 Abbott V ruling directed the Department to conduct a formal evaluation program, and to establish data benchmarks to track progress in the Abbott districts and schools. The following is a chronology of ELC’s efforts, and the Department’s inaction, on these critical requirements:

  • May 2003: After legal action taken by ELC, the Supreme Court in Abbott X orders the Department to establish a Work Group to design the evaluation. ELC and DOE agree to work together to facilitate a prompt design and launch of the program.
  • June 2005: After designing the evaluation and issuing a formal bid for the work, the Department suddenly retracts the bid and suspends the evaluation
  • December 2005: the Department reconvenes Work Group but fails to take further action
  • June 2006: In the FY 2007 State Appropriations Bill, the Legislature directs the Department to prepare a plan for the evaluation and for the progress benchmarks by October 2006. The Department releases a plan indicating that action will be taken on both requirements in early 2007
  • April 2007: The Department does not follow up on the October 2006 plan, and cuts the allocation of funds for the evaluation from its budget

ELC Director of Research Lesley Hirsch underscored the importance of the evaluation and benchmarks in a certification filed with Judge Feinberg. Ms. Hirsch noted that without an evaluation, "the DOE is clearly unable to provide any meaningful technical assistance to support urban school improvement or make necessary programmatic changes to best serve the needs of the Abbott students."

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Theresa Luhm, Esq.
Managing Director
email: tluhm@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x26