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NY AND NJ FAIR FUNDING LAWSUITS READY TO ADVANCE

December 1, 2014

Lawsuits brought by students in New York’s small cities school districts and New Jersey’s rural districts challenging unfair funding are poised to advance in early 2015. The lawsuits raise the failure of Governors Andrew Cuomo and Christopher Christie to adequately fund school funding formulas in the Empire and Garden States, respectively.

Education Law Center is serving as co-counsel in both lawsuits.  Below are brief summaries of the cases and court schedules.

Maisto v. New York

In this lawsuit, students in eight, high poverty, “small cities” school districts assert that their schools are deprived of the teachers, support staff, programs and services deemed “essential” to afford them a “meaningful high school education,” the standard for a “sound basic education” under the New York Constitution as previously established by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

The students are prepared to demonstrate that the lack of essential education resources is caused by large shortfalls in state school aid due to the Cuomo Administration’s refusal to fund the state’s Foundation Aid Formula. The Formula was enacted in 2007 to respond to the Court of Appeals ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. The NY Legislature put the Formula in place to ensure sufficient state funding to provide essential resources for all students to have the opportunity for a sound basic education. 

The students in the Maisto case attend school in Utica, Poughkeepsie, Jamestown, Mount Vernon, Kingston, Newburgh, Port Jervis and Niagara Falls. The trial is set to begin before Judge Kimberly O’Connor on January 21 in Albany. While the trial involves only eight school districts, the decision in the case could impact the State’s obligation to address the approximately $5 billion shortfall in Foundation Formula funding for students across the state.     

Visit the ELC website for more information and updates on the Maisto litigation.

Bacon v. NJ Department of Education

This long-running lawsuit involves 16 small, high poverty, Southern New Jersey school districts. In a 2006 ruling, the NJ State Board of Education found that the education and funding in these districts was so inadequate it violated the district students’ right to a “thorough and efficient” education under the New Jersey Constitution. In a 2008 ruling, an appeals court upheld the State Board’s ruling and remanded to the State Education Commissioner to determine whether the newly enacted weighted student funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – provided the resources necessary to remedy the constitutional violation.

In 2009, the State Education Commissioner issued “needs assessments” of each district, determining that the increase in K-12 funding and the expansion of high quality preschool for all three- and four-year-olds under the SFRA formula would address the districts’ needs and enable the districts to improve educational opportunities for all students. The Commissioner recognized that the districts received funding increases under the SFRA formula during the first two years of implementation.

In 2010-11, Governor Christie cut over $1 billion in state funding from the SFRA formula, effectively wiping out the increases received by the districts. Since 2012, the Christie Administration has not restored the cut, nor provided any of the increases in K-12 and preschool funding required by the formula.

The “Bacon district” students have filed a complaint to enforce the State Education Commissioner’s 2009 determination that funding under the SFRA formula provides a remedy for the inadequate funding and education found by the State Board in 2006. The complaint is proceeding on a “summary” basis before Judge Mary Jacobson in the Mercer County court. The students are asking Judge Jacobson to order the State Education Commissioner to immediately request that the NJ Legislature appropriate the estimated $18.5 million funding shortfall in K-12 programs and the funding necessary to begin implementing high quality, universal preschool beginning September 2015. Argument in the case is scheduled for December 11.

Visit the ELC website for more information and updates on the Bacon litigation.

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24