Fight Over Funding

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Legal Landmarks in New Jersey's School Finance Saga

  • 1970: In Robinson v. Cahill, advocates for urban students assail the state's school finance system as a raw deal for city schools, prompting the New Jersey Supreme Court three years later to declare the system unconstitutional.
  • 1976: The state high court shutters the schools for several weeks to pressure lawmakers to come up with the money for a new funding scheme. The legislature then adopts the state's first income tax to raise cash for the cities.
  • 1981: In Abbott v. Burke, urban school advocates charge that the revised formula has actually widened the gap between rich and poor schools.
  • 1990: The state supreme court slaps down the 15-year-old funding plan, ordering the state to bring school spending in the 28 neediest cities up to the level of its wealthiest suburbs.
  • 1994: In a second major Abbott ruling, the high court tosses out the state's attempt to comply with its 1990 ruling and orders the spending gap closed by 1997.
  • 1996: In December, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman signs a bill aimed at limiting the state's financial obligation to poor districts to the amount that state officials say is sufficient to meet New Jersey's curriculum standards. The Abbott plaintiffs march back to court.
  • 1997: In a ruling last week, the supreme court hands the Abbott plaintiffs their third major victory, striking down the new funding law as unconstitutional and ordering the state to wipe out the spending disparity by the fall.

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