Planned cuts in state aid for 2019-20 amount to more than $27 million; over the next five years, city schools stand to lose another $208 million, officials said.
“Were looking at laying off 415 schoolteachers if these cuts are allowed to stand,” said Sudhan Thomas, president of the Jersey City Board of Education. “We have 2,400 teachers, so thats close to 20 percent of our population. It would lead to further overcrowding of our classrooms, which are already crowded because of underfunding over years.”
The lawsuit was filed Monday in Superior Court in Hudson County on behalf of the Jersey City Board of Education and an unidentified student at School 29 and his guardian, Shanna Givens.
Since 2018, Trenton lawmakers have redirected money from districts considered “overfunded” by the state to needier, faster-growing school districts.
As a result, about 30 percent of New Jersey public schools considered “overfunded” will see cuts in aid under the proposed budget plan. About 70 percent of school districts will get a boost in school aid.
Jersey City, which has 29,000 students in public schools, has alleged that the cuts are unconstitutional and that New Jersey is failing to meet its obligations under the law.
“If the recent amendments to the School Funding Reform are permitted to be implemented … the calamity that would ensue would be insurmountable,” the district alleged in the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, officials also allege that the proposed cuts come after a decade of state underfunding left Jersey City with a $700 million shortfall.
Several other school districts that are losing money due to school funding changes have also sued the state. They include Toms River, which faces a cumulative $80 million in state aid funding cuts over the next six years, and Brick Township, which faces a $23 million loss.
Mike Yaple, a Department of Education spokesman, said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
Jersey Citys school district, reeling from hundreds of millions in planned state funding cuts over the next six years, is suing the state of New Jersey, alleging the cuts are unconstitutional and have harmed the districts 30,000 students.
The bombshell lawsuit, filed in Hudson County Superior Court on Monday morning, alleges those state aid cuts are coming on top of previous losses of state aid that have cost the district an additional $600 million. More state aid, not reduced funding, is required, the lawsuit says.
If successful, the lawsuit would have a seismic impact on the way school districts are funded in New Jersey, joining Robinson v. Cahill in 1973 and Abbott v. Burke in 1985 as landmark cases concerning school funding.
The complaint comes just six months after the school district took the final step necessary to win back complete local control of the district from New Jersey education officials. The state takeover began in 1989.
The district, which operates with a $555 million budget that gets most of its revenue from the state, says it may have to lay off nearly 400 teachers as a direct result of the most recent state aid cuts.
These negative impacts would follow thousands of JCBOE students for the rest of their lives, severely reducing their chances of being accepted into college or other secondary schooling and their ability to be constructive members of the work force, reads the 166-page lawsuit.
The two-count lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 and amendments to that law passed last year. Those amendments, which called for phasing out the form of state aid responsible for at least $175 million in Jersey Citys school budget, came after years of criticism from school officials in districts around the state that received far less in state funding assistance than Jersey City receives and less than the SFRA promised.
Important factors at play here are the districts adequacy budget and its local fair share. The adequacy budget is the amount the state says is necessary to provide a thorough and efficient education to every pupil. The local fair share is the amount the state believes local taxpayers should kick in for the school budget.
For 2018-19, Jersey Citys adequacy budget is $590 million and its local fair share is $399 million. The local school tax levy is only $124 million.
The lawsuit argues that the state should have filled the gap between the local tax levy and the districts adequacy budget, a gap that has widened since SFRA was adopted in 2008.
Jeff Bennett is with the Fair Funding Action Committee, which has advocated for the kind of redistribution of state school funding aid Jersey Citys district has argued against. Bennett said the states 2008 school funding law does not call for an increase in aid to help Jersey City reach its adequacy budget.
SFRA was never intended to fill in whatever the gap was between the districts tax levy and its adequacy budget, Bennett told The Jersey Journal. That is 100 percent false.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Jersey City Board of Education, an unidentified student at School 29 and his guardian, Shanna Givens. The defendants are New Jersey; the state Department of Education and its commissioner, Lamont Repollet; the New Jersey Office of Management and Budget; the New Jersey Department of Treasury; and the state treasurer, Elizabeth Maher Muoio.
Spokesmen for the state Attorney Generals Office — which handles press inquiries about pending litigation — and for the New Jersey DOE declined to comment.
Terrence T. McDonald may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @terrencemcd. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook.