Global law firm White & Case LLP partnered with the Education Law Center (ELC), a New Jersey-based education advocacy group, leading to victory before the New Jersey State Supreme Court on May 24 in which the court ruled that New Jersey must provide $500 million in additional funding to 31 low-income districts statewide. The long running litigation, Abbott v. Burke, has been described by The New York Times as the most significant education case since Brown vs. Board of Education.
"Half a billion dollars in additional education funding for New Jersey's most disadvantaged children is a terrific outcome," said John Rue, an attorney with White & Case who worked closely on the matter with ELC. "The New Jersey Supreme Court has clearly stated, yet again, that New Jersey's children are entitled to attend schools that have access to adequate funding, and that the state cannot simply use the financial downturn as an excuse to walk away from its constitutional obligation to effectively educate all New Jersey children."
Abbott v Burke was originally filed by ELC in 1981, leading to the first Abbott decision in 1985 and many follow-up decisions since. In 2008, a new school-funding law, the School Funding Reform Act, ended the special funding for low-income districts ordered in previous Abbott decisions and applied a single funding formula to every school district in the state. In 2009, at the state's request, the New Jersey Supreme Court found the School Funding Reform Act to be constitutional, as long as the state provided adequate funding as defined by the formula. But the state failed to allocate the necessary funding for the 2010-11 school year, and ELC sought a ruling from the court ordering full funding. That motion was filed in the summer of 2010, and oral arguments were conducted in January 2011. Immediately thereafter, the court remanded the case to a trial court judge to make factual findings about the impact of the cuts across the state.
On the initial motion, White & Case represented amicus Disability Rights New Jersey and other disability rights advocacy organizations in filing a brief in support of the plaintiffs. After the court remanded the case, White & Case worked with ELC, which served as class counsel for the children attending school in New Jersey's poorest urban districts, assisting David Sciarra, ELC's executive director and lead trial counsel, on the eight-day trial by preparing witnesses, taking and defending depositions, preparing court filings and examining witnesses.
The White & Case team was lead by partner Gregory Little and supported by Rue, as well as by Brandon Freeman, Derek Kelly, Sara Lewis, Derrick Moore, Charles Koster, Erika Lane, Jennifer Oh, Yury Smagornisky, Imtiaz Yakub, Scott Pegram and Jayashree Mitra.
"We would not have had this successful outcome if not for the extraordinary work of the White & Case team," said Sciarra. "The team's dedication and tenacity were invaluable to ELC and will make a major difference for the children of New Jersey."
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