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COMMISSIONER DELAYS RELIEF TO NJ RURAL STUDENTS

PUTS OFF ACTION UNTIL PLANNED REVISION OF STATE SCHOOL FUNDING LAW

In a Report to the NJ State Board of Education , Acting Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy declined to address the specific needs of school children in 16 poor South Jersey districts, even though the State Board has declared the current school funding law unconstitutional as applied to those districts. While acknowledging the law’s failures, the Acting Commissioner has decided these shortcomings are best addressed by: (1) devising a new school funding formula to replace the Comprehensive Education Improvement and Financing Act of 1997 (CEIFA), and (2) implementating of the new statewide school monitoring system, the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC).

The Report responds to a January 2006 State Board decision in the case of Bacon v. NJ Department of Education, in which the State Board ruled that students in the 16 rural districts are not in fact receiving a "thorough and efficient" education under CEIFA in light of demonstrated educational deficiencies and socioeconomic conditions that "mirror" those in the poor, urban "Abbott" districts. The State Board’s ruling directed the Commissioner, by February 2006, to assess the educational needs of each district to meet State academic standards, as well as the unique academic, social and health needs of the districts’ students, and propose funding and other remedies to meet these needs. Subsequently, the Board extended the deadline to May 2006.

The Commissioner’s failure to complete the court-ordered assessment, as explained in the Report, represents the State’s latest effort to block remedial relief to students in the 16 districts. The case is also before the Appellate Court, as the districts seek to be designated as "Abbott" districts and immediately afforded the bedrock remedies provided to the urban Abbott communities, such as parity foundational funding, universal preschool, school construction, and other programs.

"It is unfortunate that the State continues to delay the delivery of the Abbott remedies to rural students, especially since the State Board conclusively determined, back in January, that they are in fact not receiving a constitutionally-adequate education," said ELC Staff Attorney Koren Bell. ELC is participating as amicus in the Bacon case in support of the districts’ request for relief.