The Kingsway Regional School District, which has been pushing for its share of state aid, has petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court to reopen the state's landmark school-funding case.
While Christie had sought power to override teacher tenure laws and freeze funding levels in the so-called Abbott districts — urban districts that have been the subject of decades of rulings by the court — Kingsway wants the court to enforce a funding formula established in 2008 in all districts.
The court has previously held that it does not have power to enforce funding beyond the 31 Abbott districts, said David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center, which represents a certified class of all schoolchildren in those districts.
The law center "will make it clear … that this request is not proper under the Abbott case," Sciarra said Friday.
He said Kingsway and other New Jersey school districts unable to adequately fund their budgets should "join together to press the Legislature" for a solution.
Kingsway already has a champion in Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who wants to send more aid to the district and others that are growing, while phasing out aid intended to be temporary from others.
That so-called adjustment aid, which Sweeney would eliminate, was given to some districts to ensure they didn't get less money from the state under the 2008 formula.
But it has never been phased out. And the formula hasn't been fully funded — leaving districts like Kingsway, which don't receive adjustment aid, with less state aid than the formula says they should receive. Sweeney has proposed spending an additional $500 million over five years.
While Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson), has called for "fully funding" the formula — a cost of at least $1 billion — he has not endorsed Sweeney's call to end adjustment aid. The Senate and Assembly have been holding separate hearings on school funding.
In its brief, Kingsway argues that the state's continued distribution of adjustment aid "violates the constitutional requirement of a thorough and efficient education system."
It asks the court to invalidate adjustment aid and to order that the state "fully implement the [funding formula] in all districts."
The court "has ruled on the constitutionality of [the funding formula] in previous Abbott decisions," Superintendent James Lavender said Friday. "We are arguing that those rules apply" to both the Abbott and non-Abbott districts, he said.
Abbott districts in South Jersey include Bridgeton, Burlington City, Camden, Gloucester City, Millville, Pemberton, Pleasantville, Salem City, and Vineland.
The district's brief was filed by Brett Gorman, a lawyer with the Parker McCay law firm. Gorman did not return a message Friday afternoon.
The court ruled the statewide funding formula constitutional in 2009 at the state's request, after years of issuing specific orders for funding the Abbott districts, Sciarra said.
But "they've made it clear that in enforcing the underfunding of the formula … they have no power except for under a very compelling showing of harm" to children in the Abbott districts, Sciarra said.
The court ordered the state to restore $500 million to the Abbott districts in 2011, after Christie cut school aid to fill a budget hole. But it didn't order the restoration of aid to other districts across the state.
Kingsway, in its brief, argues that "it cannot be reasonably maintained that some students are entitled to 100% of their school funding while other students are not."
Of its decision to petition the Supreme Court, rather than a trial court or the state Education Department, the district contends that the court has already taken action regarding the constitutional rights of students in the Abbott districts.
"This court alone is uniquely able to consider and address the state's budgetary process and [the funding formula] at this time," the district says in the brief.