FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 3, 2016
Contact: Melody Meyer, firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.770.7061
NEWARK PARENTS SEEK TO INTERVENE IN STATE EFFORT TO RE-OPEN SUPREME COURT SCHOOL FUNDING CASE
The intervening parents also filed a lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s “last in, first out” quality-blind teacher layoff law earlier this week
Trenton, NJ – Today, six parents from Newark, supported by Partnership for Educational Justice, filed a motion with the New Jersey Supreme Court to intervene in Abbott v. Burke, a decades-old school funding lawsuit.
The parents’ motion opposes a September 2016 filing from the State of New Jersey, which asked the Supreme Court to re-open Abbott and remove the current court order for the State to provide extra education funding to 31 high-need school districts, including Newark. The State also asked the Supreme Court to grant the New Jersey Commissioner of Education the authority to waive enforcement of the State’s “last in, first out” (LIFO) teacher layoff law, among other education laws and negotiated policies, in the same 31 high-need school districts.
The Newark parents’ intervention motion filed today opposes both the State’s request to reduce funding to Newark and similar districts, and its tactic to grant a political appointee the discretion to enforce or ignore the State’s teacher layoff law. They also urge the courts to consider the constitutionality of New Jersey’s LIFO law on its own, and argue that this issue should not be tied to school funding decisions. Earlier this week, the same group of Newark parents filed HG v. Harrington in Mercer County Superior Court, asserting that New Jersey’s quality-blind LIFO law violates students’ constitutional right to a “thorough and efficient” education by allowing ineffective teachers to remain in classrooms while effective teachers are let go. In HG v. Harrington, the plaintiff families ask the court to declare LIFO unconstitutional and render it unenforceable in Newark and similar districts.
“It’s time for New Jersey’s state leaders to listen to public school parents,” said Iris Smith, mother of two Newark Public School students and plaintiff in HG v. Harrington. “For our children to have the best chance at success, we need to keep the most effective teachers in Newark public school classrooms, and the state must continue to provide the education funding our schools need. It’s not hard to see what’s best for students, and as a parent, I will not stop fighting for the quality education that my children deserve.”
In 2014, to better understand the effect that LIFO layoffs would have on Newark’s overall teacher quality, Newark Public Schools ran the numbers on a hypothetical teacher layoff scenario. Under the quality-blind LIFO layoff mandate, 75 percent of the teachers laid off would have been rated effective or highly effective, and only 4 percent of the teachers laid off would have been rated ineffective. Overall in the same year, approximately 15 percent of Newark teachers were rated less than effective.
Research studies have consistently established that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning. Students with high-quality, effective teachers are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, more likely to have good jobs and higher lifetime earnings, and they are less likely to become teenage parents.
Since at least 2012, the Newark Public School district has only avoided laying off effective teachers by paying millions of dollars per year to cover the salaries of ineffective – but more senior – teachers even when no school would agree to their placement in the school. This costly work-around has diverted valuable resources from educational programming and other expenses that could improve the education of Newark students.
The State’s request that the Supreme Court remove the long-standing requirement to provide supplementary state education funding to Newark and similar districts is a necessary prerequisite for a new school funding formula proposed by Governor Chris Christie in June 2016. The Governor’s funding formula would provide a flat, one-size-fits-all per pupil allocation to every public school district in the state. Under this plan, Newark Public Schools stand to lose nearly 69 percent of their state education dollars, a funding cut of $14,502.99 per pupil.
“New Jersey state leaders are using students’ constitutional right to an education as a bargaining chip,” said Ralia Polechronis, Executive Director at Partnership for Educational Justice. “Students cannot get a quality education without effective teachers, and “last in, first out” layoffs mean that effective teachers will lose their jobs while ineffective teachers remain. It is unconscionable to leave the enforcement of an unconstitutional law in the hands of a political appointee, and it is wrong to bind its fate together with budget cuts that will hurt the very same schools that suffer under LIFO.”
“The interests of these Newark families are not represented by either side in the State’s motion to re-open Abbott v. Burke, and we think it is critical that the court hear from the parents whose children have the most at stake,” said Kent Yalowitz, Partner at Arnold & Porter, the lead firm representing the plaintiff families. “New Jersey’s quality-blind teacher layoff law violates student’s constitutional rights, and these families deserve the attention of the court.”
A full copy of the HG v. Harrington complaint and the plaintiffs’ motion to intervene in Abbott v. Burke are available at edjustice.org/projectsnj/.
About Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ)
Founded by award-winning journalist Campbell Brown, Partnership for Educational Justice is a nonprofit organization pursuing impact litigation that empowers families and communities to advocate for great public schools through the courts. In addition to the litigation launched in New Jersey today, PEJ is currently working with parents and students in New York and Minnesota in support of legal challenges to unjust teacher employment statutes in those states.