The Acting Commissioner of Education has finally sent a formal response to R' Aron (Arthur) Lang's requests for a timetable for the review that is required to be done pursuant to the Appellate Division’s specific remand instructions - namely that the petitioner-appellants’ argument that the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) funding structure is unconstitutional as applied to the Lakewood school district.

This response highlights why it's so imperative to vote for new candidates to the Board of Education, says Mr. Lang.

As the news was broken here on FAA News, on March 6, 2023, in a massive win for Lakewood's taxpayers and students, the Appellate Division granted a major win to R' Aron (Arthur) Lang in his long running lawsuit known as Alcantra vs. Hespe, which seeks for a fairer funding formula for the Lakewood Public School District.

The 3-judge panel concluded that the record generated before the Administrate Law Judge (ALJ) cannot fairly be said to support a finding Lakewood's students are receiving a constitutionally sound education, and therefore, the Commissioner of Education owed the appellants a thorough review of their substantive argument - that the funding structure of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) was unconstitutional as applied to Lakewood's unique demographic situation.

While this ruling does aim to bring more funding to Lakewood, a glaring issue is that the Appellate Division did not actually set any deadline for when this "thorough review" is to occur.

To make matters worse, as previously reported here on FAA News, on May 12, 2023, Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan doubled down with a shocking decision (i.e. yet another delay tactic) - merely that the court's review of the District was on years past, and the time has come for her department to do another in-depth review as to how well Lakewood schools are doing currently!

"In light of the Appellate Division’s finding, and in order to execute my obligations under the remand
and provide a well-informed opinion as to whether the SFRA is constitutional as applied to Lakewood,
I am now directing the Department to expedite the comprehensive review referenced in my final
decision. The facts and data that comprised the record before the Office of Administrative Law, the
Commissioner, and the Appellate Division, relate primarily to the 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-
18, and 2018-19 school years. Because this information is now outdated and the subsequent
intervening years will have revealed additional relevant and informative data, coupled with the fact that there have been unprecedented changes in the field of education as a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic, an updated record is required in order to make an appropriately informed decision about the SFRA and its application to Lakewood...

"Once the expedited comprehensive review is complete, the Department will be better equipped on how best to ensure that Lakewood’s public
school students receive the necessary education required by our State’s Constitution," the Commissioner concluded.

Essentially, the Commissioner was attempting to circumvent the Appellate Division's decision that the funding formula is unconditional as to Lakewood because Lakewood fails to provide a Thorough & Efficient Education (T&E), by saying that the court only reviewed the district from years past and now its her turn to review the District from "the here and now."

In response, as previously reported here on FAA News, Mr. Lang and Professor Paul Tractenberg filed a Motion for Leave to File an Interlocutory Appeal, asking the appellate court to intervene and not allow the Commissioner to get away with this subterfuge.

Unfortunately, as previously reported here on FAA News, the Appellate Division declined to intervene.

Following this loss, Professor Tractenberg returned his efforts towards the Commissioner, with a "Motion for Clarification or Reconsideration" regarding her May 12 Order.

The motion asks the Commissioner to make it clear and explicit that:

• The remand process will proceed on an expedited basis, in accordance with a specific timetable providing dates for all the elements of that process, including the date for your final decision; and
• The remand process will be focused on the Appellate Division’s specific remand instructions—namely the petitioner-appellants’ argument that the SFRA funding structure is unconstitutional as applied to the Lakewood school district.

Acting Commissioner Allen-McMillan has now responded as follows:

Dear Mr. Tractenberg and Mr. Lang:
This letter serves as an update regarding the Department of Education’s (Department) review of the Lakewood School District in the above-referenced matter.

As you are aware, on March 6, 2023, the Appellate Division issued an opinion finding that Lakewood’s
public school students are not receiving a thorough and efficient education (T&E). As such, it remanded the matter to me for a determination as to whether the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) is unconstitutional as applied to Lakewood. And as I explained in my previous letter of May 12, 2023, in light of the Appellate Division’s decision, and to execute my obligations under the remand, I directed the Department to expedite its
comprehensive review of the Lakewood School District.

In furtherance of my directive, Dr. Kimberley Harrington Markus, a former Commissioner of the
Department, has been retained to oversee the comprehensive review and author a report and
recommendations at its conclusion. Experts Public Consulting Group and Jeremiah Ford have been
retained to assist Dr. Harrington in her review. Additional experts may be retained throughout the
course of the review as needed.

The experts will collaborate with the Department to examine the Lakewood School District’s operations and performance in several key areas, including educational policy, special education, administration and governance, and accounting. In addition to these areas, the review will include, but will not be limited to, an examination of the particular areas of concern raised by petitioners in these proceedings, such as transportation costs for the Lakewood School District’s students and special education funding. As part of the process, these experts will review information currently held by the Department and will require additional information directly from the Lakewood School District. Their review may also require in-person access, meetings, and observation, among other things.

I anticipate the review will take approximately six months; however, this is only a preliminary estimate as the volume of information to be reviewed and complexity of the required analysis are unknown at this time. Upon completion of the expedited comprehensive review, a report containing findings and recommendations will be issued. The Lakewood School District and the petitioners will have an opportunity to respond to the resulting report prior to the issuance of any final agency decision on the as-applied constitutionality of the SFRA. A specific briefing schedule will be issued upon the submission of Dr. Harrington’s report.

"I will continue to keep you informed as this process moves forward," the Commissioner concluded.

Following receipt of this letter, Mr. Lang urged residents to "get out the vote for BOE candidates that support this litigation," saying, "the current BOE supports the commissioner. If reelected, they will continue to spin data during the review to highlight their misguided position that education has improved and the courts shouldn't order the legislature to fix the formula."

Mr. Lang also highlighted the absurdity of the Commissioner claiming she "needs more information," saying, "monitors have been here for a decade, reporting monthly to the Commissioner. The state had four lawyers against us, also for a decade, presenting to the court everything possible to know about Lakewood. She still needs more information??"

As first reported here on FAA News, Board of Education members Ada Gonzalez, Moshe Raitzik, and Eliyahu Greenwald who are seeking reelection to additional three-year terms, are facing strong challenges from Avrohom Schubert, Eli Eisenbach, and Yoni Morgenstern who are running together under the slogan "Fixing the Formula," and Rabbi Yehuda Shain who is running under the slogan "Accountability and Transparency."

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