A Supreme Court judge has ordered the New Jersey Department of Education to hand over state funding data and formula codes to six school districts on the Jersey Shore, information that could explain how state tax dollars are distributed to nearly 600 counties statewide.
In response to a lawsuit brought by the school districts of Brick, Toms River, Jackson, Lacey, Freehold Regional and Manalapan-Englishtown Regional, Supreme Court Justice Robert T. Logy has ordered the State Department to turn over the markup language used in its funding formula calculations to the counties.
The attorney for the six counties filed a lawsuit against the State Department and its records clerk, Janet Larkin, in Mercer County Superior Court last July. The suit alleged that the department violated New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act and the common law right of access to public records when it failed to deliver coding documents used to calculate state aid to individual counties.
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Districts, which have slashed tens of millions of state aid dollars from their budgets in recent years, have sought more information about how state tax dollars are divided among New Jersey schools. Stephen J. Edelstein of the Weiner Law Group in Parsippany, who advocated for schools earlier this month in a virtual Supreme Court hearing on the case, said the data is essential to understanding and reviewing the mathematics of the state’s funding formula, known as S2.
In January 2021, Supreme Court Justice Mary Jacobson ordered the Department of Education to hand over its algorithm code to help areas of the Jersey Shore. But Edelstein returned to court in July after he said additional data needed to understand the algorithm had not been released by the Education Department.
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Lougy’s ruling last week ordered the State Department to turn over code and additional data used in the accounts and for the state to pay attorneys’ fees to the Jersey Shore school districts.
With the additional information, the six counties are hoping to find out if their state aid allocations are correct or if there is a flaw in the formula, Edelstein told the Asbury Park Press.
“This is a very important decision,” he said. “This will be the first time anyone will be able to pull the curtain and look at what the Department of Education actually does with state aid numbers and how their algorithms work.”
The state Department of Education and the state attorney general’s office, which represents the Department of Education in court, did not immediately respond to calls and emails for comment.
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Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native and covers the towns of Brick, Barnegat, and Lacey as well as the environment. I worked in journalism for over a decade. You can reach her at @oglesbyAPP, email@example.com, or 732-557-5701.