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Center to fight for ‘Abbott’ restoration

The Christie administration violated the New Jersey Constitution and a court order when it cut more than $1 billion in state aid to public schools in the spring, education advocates will argue before the New Jersey Supreme Court this week.

In another chapter of the 25-year-old Abbott v. Burke school-funding case, the Education Law Center is expected to seek restoration of full state aid in coming years under a formula designed by the Corzine administration in 2008.

During oral argument on Wednesday, Christie administration attorneys are likely to counter that the state faced a gaping budget hole this year and could not afford to comply fully with former Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s School Funding Reform Act of 2008. Aid reductions based on a percentage of school districts’ total budgets were seen as the fairest strategy by the state.

The case comes at a time of tumult for New Jersey’s highest court. Two justices may not participate in the ruling – one because of a potential conflict of interest and another in protest of court appointments.

From the beginning, the Education Law Center challenged parts of the 2008 formula, which sought to distribute aid to all districts with low-income and at-risk students. The center contended that the new formula would harm some of the former Abbott districts, 31 mostly urban and low-income districts including Camden, Gloucester City, Pemberton, and Burlington City in South Jersey.

Before the Corzine formula, court orders won by the law center resulted in those districts receiving what critics considered a disproportionately large share of state aid.

The case at hand goes beyond those 31 districts, said the law center’s executive director, David Sciarra. “This is about statewide funding for all kids,” he said.

In ruling the funding-formula law constitutional in 2009, the high court expressed expectation that the state would continue to provide aid at the levels required by the formula.

A state Education Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the pending litigation. In its court filing against the law center’s motion, however, the state portrayed its education aid cut as necessary, fair, and prudent. “In a fiscal climate that demands retrenched expenditures, it is simply not possible, much less constitutionally compelled, to fully fund” the formula, the state’s filing says. It also states that the aid cutback did not result in “deficiencies of a constitutional dimension” and did not warrant court intervention.

Forcing the state to fully fund education aid would reduce money available to other areas, “rendering asunder the legislative and executive branches’ balancing of many competing and worthy interests that demand state funding,” the state argued.

In addition, it said, the administration’s method of calculating the cuts – in most cases, the state’s contribution was reduced by an amount equal to roughly 5 percent of each district’s total budget – meant that poor districts retained most of their aid. Some affluent districts lost all of theirs.

Paul Tractenberg, a Rutgers University law professor and founder of the law center, disagreed with the state’s logic.

“It’s a matter of priority,” he said, adding that a constitutional requirement must be funded even if it means taking money from something else that is worthwhile.

The state is “trying to change the rules of the game,” Tractenberg said. “The state is effectively asking the court to reverse its earlier decision.”

The case comes to New Jersey’s highest court at an awkward time. Siding with conservatives who have accused the court of legislating from the bench, Christie denied reappointment of Justice John F. Wallace Jr., a Democrat from Gloucester County, in May. As Wallace’s replacement, he has nominated Anne M. Patterson, a Republican lawyer from Morris County.

Since then, the Democratically controlled Senate has refused to consider the nomination. Edwin H. Stern, the former head of the state Superior Court Appellate Division with a Democratic background, was appointed to the seven-member panel temporarily by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto has vowed to abstain from future decisions because he considers having an interim justice unconstitutional. Legislators have called for Rivera-Soto’s resignation or impeachment.

Rabner, who served as attorney general when the Corzine administration drafted the 2008 funding formula, may decline to participate in the case as well.

The court’s current situation is “a tremendous concern,” Tractenberg said. “The court is under both external and internal pressure, which makes its decision in this case a very difficult position. “On one hand, they’re under pressure not to bring down further ire from the governor; at the same time, they want to uphold their principles. To the extent of how they respond to the pressures, it’s a very difficult position to be in.”

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School funding formula needs fixing

April 7, 2010
The Asbury Park Press

Adjustment aid just one part of problem

One would believe the world was ending if all you could do was listen to the gnashing of teeth from the state’s educational cartel of late. Whether the cuts in school aid for the upcoming year are 5 percent or zero, one message resounds: anything that isn’t an increase is unacceptable. And, if we don’t get it from Trenton, we’ll make sure we get the money during the school board elections. (more…)

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Corzine forms panel to aid nonpublic schools

By DIANE D’AMICO,
The Press of Atlantic City

TRENTON – The funding challenges faced by the state’s more than 1,200 nonpublic schools will be the focus of a new state commission.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Tuesday signed an executive order creating the Non-Public Education Funding Commission to recommend how nonpublic schools and the state can maximize increasingly limited funds. (more…)

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Goodbye Corzine, hello educational progress

November 17, 2009
One News Now

A New Jersey school choice advocate says he will not miss the state’s outgoing Governor John Corzine or his ineffective methods of improving education for inner-city minorites.

Educational reform supporters are excited about the election of New Jersey’s Republican Chris Christie. Governor-elect Christie took a strong stand on education during his campaign, promising that he would not turn a blind eye to the plight of inner-city minorities who are stuck in underperforming schools and are years behind their white peers. (more…)

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Kids First Campaign on Local Radio

E3 has launched a radio campaign promoting the documentary film The Cartel and letting New Jerseyans know how poorly our children and our taxpayers are being treated by our schools. You can hear the ads below (MP3 Format):

The Camden Crackdown
The Urban Graduation Scam
Less Means More
Who Stands for You?
If You Build It Will They Learn?

Join Our Casue

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Christie blasts city schools

By JIM WALSH
Courier-Post Staff

Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie on Monday night blasted the city’s school system as “obscene” and said its failed classrooms are to blame for Camden’s dangerous streets.

In a speech here, Christie aimed much of his criticism at his Democratic opponent, saying the administration of Gov. Jon S. Corzine has taken “deep bows” for “half measures” in the impoverished city. (more…)

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Issues facing N.J. public schools, students tackled by gubernatorial candidates

By Star-Ledger Staff
The Star-Ledger

New Jersey is putting $11.1 billion into state aid to public schools this year. Close to half that money goes to 31 mostly urban districts designated by state Supreme Court rulings in the Abbott vs. Burke case. But this year the court approved a School Funding Reform Act designed to gradually shift some of that spending to other districts that have large percentages of children from low-income households. (more…)

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