The New Jersey Supreme Court last week rejected the state’s request to end a court mandate regarding school aid to 31 special districts known as Abbott districts.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jon Corzine increased total school funding by $532.8 million to $7.8 billion, with all districts receiving at least 2% of additional funding. The administration believes the new funding formula, which connects state aid to the number of underprivileged students in an area, satisfies the Abbott law while also assisting other needy districts.

Yet the court ruled that additional evaluation is needed to determine if Corzine’s new school funding formula meets the goals of the 1998 Abbott decision — to ensure that Abbott districts receive the same per-pupil operating budget as the state’s wealthiest school districts.

The issue will now go before a special master who will hold hearings on the new school-aid formula to determine if Corzine’s funding plan is sustainable.

“Certainly there exist, in this state, districts other than Abbott districts that are challenged in their provision of a thorough and efficient education because they have concentrated populations of poor, at-risk children with exceptional educational and social needs,” the court’s opinion read.

“The state’s desire to step back and take a hard look at its whole approach to school funding is reasonable and responsible, particularly when the cost of public funding for education comprises such an overwhelming portion of the state’s annual budget,” it added. “However, until the state demonstrates to our satisfaction that a constitutionally adequate education can be provided to Abbott district students through the funding that will be provided via [the School Funding Reform Act], the state is bound to comply with the prior remedial orders and decisions respecting the plaintiffs in Abbott districts.”

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