In a case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school funding formula, an administrative law judge has allowed a lawsuit filed by parents in Lakewood, Ocean County, to move forward.
In Alcantara v. Hespe, the state asked the judge to dismiss a case in which parents of both private and public school students in Lakewood claimed that the funding formula known as the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) does not provide enough funds to provide a thorough and efficient education to Lakewood students.
Specifically, the parents alleged that the SFRA does not take into account the extraordinary costs that Lakewood incurs to provide transportation and special education services to its nonpublic school students. Lakewood has 31,000 nonpublic school students, and the costs to provide services to them take away from the money available to the district’s 6,000 public school students, the lawsuit argues.
In its motion, the state said the case should be dismissed because the district had sufficient funds for the 2017-2018 school year, which included an advance on state aid, to provide services to students.
Further, Lakewood was implementing its curriculum in accordance with the Student Learning Standards (NJSLS). The state claimed Lakewood provides not only basic skills and requirements, but also access to vocational education, technology, and the arts. Additionally, test scores and graduation rates in the district were improving.
However, Judge Susan Scarola determined that after considering the testimony presented by petitioners, the state’s motion for involuntary dismissal must be denied. She found that evidence presented by the parents could show Lakewood cannot provide a thorough and efficient education with the level of funding it receives under SFRA and that, as a result, SFRA could be unconstitutional as applied to the district.
She ordered the state to move forward with its defense of the suit filed by the parents.