The Jersey City school board has sued the state, demanding the Legislature restore at least $27 million funds cut from New Jersey’s second largest school district.
Sudhan Thomas, the board’s president, said state aid cuts–$27 million this year alone–represented a “complete abandonment” of the state’s constitutional responsibility to the children in Jersey City.
“We will not allow 30,000 children of Jersey City to be denied the education they have a constitutionally guaranteed right to. This is the civil rights battle of our generation and this lawsuit is filed to protect the fundamental rights of every student in Jersey City and to ensure that they have a real shot at the American Dream.”
The statement released by Thomas and other Jersey City school officials follows. Analysis will be added later.
Jersey City Board of Education Files Lawsuit Challenging Devastating State Education Aid Cuts District Faces $27 Million Reduction, 400+ Teacher Layoffs This Year Unless Unconstitutional Aid Cuts are Reversed
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The Jersey City Board of Education has filed a lawsuit in Hudson County Superior Court seeking to overturn dramatic cuts in state education aid that would lead to permanent, irreparable harm for thousands of local students if allowed to continue. The loss of aid, which amounts to $27 million in this school year, could lead to as many as 410 layoffs of teachers and instructional support staff in 2019-20. The projected cuts of $180 million over the next five years would lead to massive layoffs in addition to the elimination of extra-curricular activities including sports and athletic programs, after-school programs and the closure and consolidation of several schools, leading to further overcrowding of Jersey City classrooms. District representatives held a news conference today announcing the lawsuit at President Barack Obama Elementary School/P.S. #34 on the south of the city in the Greenville neighborhood, flanked by parents, staff, tax payers, community and labor leaders.
“This massive reduction of state education aid is arbitrary, capricious and signals a complete abandonment of the state’s constitutional responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient education to Jersey City students, especially to the thousands of poor, minority and at-risk children of our district who would be denied quality education as a result of these abrupt and devastating cuts,” said Sudhan Thomas, Board President, JCBOE. “We will not allow 30,000 children of Jersey City to be denied the education they have a constitutionally guaranteed right to. This is the civil rights battle of our generation and this lawsuit is filed to protect the fundamental rights of every student in Jersey City and to ensure that they have a real shot at the American Dream.”
Jersey City’s public schools have not been fully funded at a constitutionally required level since the 2008-09 school year, the first year the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 was implemented. Since that time under the Christie administration and state control of Jersey City, the district has steadily slipped further and further below adequacy, a total in excess of $700 million since 2009-10, negatively impacting its ability to fund through and efficient education guaranteed by the state constitution. However, the loss of ‘Adjustment Aid’ due to the recent amendments to SFRA in 2018 have drastically accelerated the problem and will cause irreparable harm and damage to the school district and its 30,000 students, unless the changes are overturned and the previous status quo is restored.
“This litigation is about the state’s failure to provide a thorough and efficient education to
the students of Jersey City due to the decades-long draught of funding and unconstitutional
application of the law,” said Angelo J. Genova, Esq., lead attorney for the Jersey City School District. “These cuts, in a district whose resources are already below what SFRA modeled is necessary for a thorough and efficient education, will lead the district further away from adequacy, causing immediate and irreparable injuries to Jersey City’s students.”
Jersey City schools were under state control from 1989 to 2018, a time in which the district fell considerably below adequacy. The JCBOE was limited by a 2% levy cap signed in law by Chris Christie in 2009. State law prevented JCBOE from accessing abatement revenues. Since regaining local control, the Board of Education has worked to carry out a complete operational efficiency audit and increase its local tax levy in order to provide additional operational funding, with a 10% tax increase in this year’s school budget. However, the loss of $27 million in adjustment aid has created an impossible situation for the district, where its only means of raising additional revenue is increasing taxes on a tax base primarily made up of lower income, minority residents and senior citizens who can least afford it. The recent revaluation was a net zero for the city with some areas seeing sharp increase in values canceling out other areas which saw a sharp decrease in property values.
“The district is already ravaged by eight years of underfunding, and these further cuts will put my son and all of the kids at Jersey City at a severe disadvantage,” said Jersey City school parent and Co-Plaintiff Shanna C. Givens. “New Jersey’s constitution says that all students are guaranteed a thorough and efficient education, but that can’t happen if our school district is eviscerated by these cuts. Historically, since 1975 in New Jersey, the courts have always acted to protect and ensure full funding and it is our hope that the courts will act again to protect the constitutional rights and the futures of our children by overturning these draconian cuts.”
The Board of Education’s lawsuit is based on the principle enshrined in New Jersey’s constitution that all students are guaranteed a thorough and efficient education. Throughout the last several decades, a series of landmark court cases stemming from the original Abbott v. Burke ruling have established special constitutional protections for students in poorer urban districts such as Jersey City. Of the 30,000 children in Jersey City, 4,500 are special needs and or Autistic requiring an Individualized education program (IEP); about 4,000 require English as a learning language (ELL)/ English as a second language services (ESL); about 20,000 of the children come from poor and low income families and qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. The district has been designated as “at risk” based on a variety of factors including socio-economic, poor academic performance, inadequate school facilities and, importantly, lower than state average per pupil funding. The district is among the most racially diverse in the state with 39% Hispanic students, 27% African American, 18% Asian American and 14% Caucasian.
“These aid cuts would be a horrific blow to the hopes and futures of some of the most vulnerable students in New Jersey,” said Acting Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker. “People from the outside see Jersey City’s progress in some of our neighborhoods, but they may not be aware of the crushing poverty, crime, broken family structures and nearly impossible living and learning conditions that have resulted in huge achievement gaps that so many of our students are working hard to overcome. Without the educational support that comes with full funding, I fear that more of our students will miss out on the opportunities they are guaranteed under our constitution, and we must act to prevent that devastation which will cause us to lose another generation.”
Sudhan Thomas, Board President, 609-647-7885 or email@example.com
Philip Swibinski, Press Conference/Media Coordinator, 201-978-8651 or firstname.lastname@example.org.