TRENTON, NJ — Students in Paterson, Trenton, Newark, and Camden should be kept in mind in any court-ordered plan for school construction funding, parents in the school districts said as part of briefs to the New Jersey Supreme Court on Monday.

Parents from the low-income districts joined the New Jersey Charter School Association (NJCSA) while filing the “Friends of the Court” or “Amicus” briefs as part of the Abbott v. Burke cases — which date back to the 1980s. 

The group emphasized that in the two new decades since the ruling, public charter and renaissance schools came to fruition and now account for almost one in every five students in the four cities — or 20 percent of students. 

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“We support the notion that charter schools are public schools and charter students should benefit from first-class facilities, just like every student should,” Bob Guarasci, Founder of the Community Charter School of Paterson (CCSP), which was created by NJCDC and opened in 2008, said.

“Every student in our city deserves a safe, healthy school building to learn in,” said Charlotte Tullo, whose children attend Foundation Academy in Trenton. “We are fighting for our cities to get all the funding they deserve, for all of our cities’ public schools.”

When Abbott v. Burke IV was decided in 1998, the NJ Supreme Court declared the Comprehensive Educational Improvement and Financing Act (CEIFA) to be unconstitutional and ordered state officials to increase funds for urban schools in order to be on the same playing field as suburban schools.

“Parents don’t care who runs their public school, they just want it to be a safe, healthy place to learn,” said Harry Lee, President of NJCSA which filed a complementary amicus brief on the same day as the parents. “Cities like Paterson, Trenton, and Newark have changed in the 20 years since this case was decided, and our funding system should keep up with the times.”

Following the rulings in the 1980s and 1990s, the first “Abbott districts” were created.

The districts are known as SDA districts since the School Development Authority covers the cost of project build-outs. 

The NJCSA noted that no state laws would need to be altered in order for charter schools to use funds for school building improvements, “but also called for state rules banning charters from using state funds for ‘new construction’ to be lifted in order to meet the needs of students in these cities,” according to a statement by the association.

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