Camden, Newark, Paterson, and Trenton Parents Join State Charter Association in Challenge to NJ’s Unfair Facilities Funding

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This week, a group of parents from Trenton, Paterson, Newark, and Camden joined the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association in asking the Supreme Court to consider additional facilities funding for all public schools in state-designated low income communities. Both motions were filed in the long-running Abbott v. Burke cases and in response to the Education Law Center’s filing seeking additional funding for projects as part of the School Development Authority’s 2019 Strategic Plan for Abbott Districts.

“I want what every parent wants for their children – a safe and healthy learning environment, especially during a critical health crisis like this,” said Charlottee Tullo, whose children attend Foundation Academies in Trenton. “Parents aren’t interested in charter versus district labels. We are all parents of public school students living in some of New Jersey’s most disadvantaged communities. I am hopeful the court will consider our case and provide the funding we need to keep our kids learning during such a challenging time.”

The State Charter Association and the group of parents have refiled motions to join the case by filing “Friends of the Court” or “Amicus” briefs asking the state’s highest court to add public charter and renaissance schools to any court-ordered plan for school construction funding, and thereby bring more funding to their cities. Currently, public charter schools serve one in five public school students in New Jersey’s 31 poorest communities – former Abbott or SDA districts.

“The Association has long advocated for equitable facilities funding for all public schools,” said Harry Lee, President and CEO of the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association. “One of the key lessons we have learned over the past two years is that every school must have access to resources that will keep their communities safe, healthy, and learning. The COVID-19 pandemic knows no boundaries and is impacting all children regardless of whether they attend district, charter or renaissance schools. We have the unique opportunity to create safe learning environments for all public school students, especially those from low income communities.”

About the Case

In the 1980s and 1990s, the New Jersey courts ruled that the education provided to children in poor communities throughout the state was “constitutionally substandard”. This created the first “Abbott districts” — school districts that the state was required to fund at the average of the level of the state’s wealthiest districts. Today, these districts are known as “SDA districts”, because the state’s School Development Authority is required to cover the costs of all school building projects within these districts. In the two decades since the Abbott school construction funding case was first decided, public charter and renaissance schools were created and now educate one out of every five students in these cities. The position of the parent group and the State Charter Association is that all public schools located in these former Abbott Districts should receive equitable funding for school buildings and doing so will bring more resources to those cities.

The table below outlines how much the cities highlighted in the parents’ brief have changed since this case was first decided by the State Supreme Court in 1998:

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