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Jackson Assemblyman Alex Sauickie is applauding the recent Appellate Division ruling that says the state must consider the strain of state-mandated transportation costs on school budgets when determining if a district receives constitutionally adequate state funding.

The nearly decade-long lawsuit, filed by Lakewood Township School District educator and attorney Arthur Lang, argued that the state failed to provide a thorough and efficient education for its 6,000 public school students. The state must consider statutory costs such as busing — Lakewood is obligated to transport its 30,000 private school students — and special education. Monday’s appellate court ruling found that the acting state education commissioner must review Lakewood’s “unique demographic situation” and find solutions to fund it.

“The decision proves what we’ve been saying about the state’s obligation to Jackson schools. It shows that the state must reconsider what is constitutionally required school aid for districts in a ‘unique and precarious position’ that are ‘outliers’ when it comes to the cost of transportation for private school students in the district,” Sauickie (R-Ocean) said. “The decision is about Lakewood, but Jackson is well on the way to where Lakewood is now, concerning huge increases in state-mandated transportation costs for private school students.”

Jackson and other municipalities surrounding Lakewood Township are finding themselves with burgeoning private school student populations. School districts are legally required to provide transportation for those students, whether through busing or reimbursing families for driving those students to school, if they do it for their own students.

Five years ago, the Jackson Township School District had 667 nonpublic school students. Today, that number is 4,331 students. In one year, the district’s budget allocation for nonpublic transportation skyrocketed from $1.3 million to $4.5 million.

The district will lose a total of $19.3 million in state aid under the school funding formula, popularly known as S2. Without changes to this formula that account for these rising transportation costs, Sauickie added, the district is looking at more than 100 staff cuts next year.

“Monday’s decision highlights the state’s constitutional requirement to ensure a thorough and efficient education. While Jackson has been able to maintain a high-quality educational program, that is under threat because of the budget crisis caused by the state’s failure to fund the mandate of private school transportation,” Sauickie said.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Assemblyman has introduced a bill (A4461) that would replace the existing Lakewood-controlled LSTA, with a new regional-based Authority which would allow Jackson, Lakewood, Howell, Toms River, Brick, and Manchester school districts to form a three-year, nonpublic school student transportation pilot program to tackle escalating busing costs with state funds.

The bill awaits consideration in the Assembly Education Committee.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Jackson Township Council has thrown their support behind this legislation.

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