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Karcher v. Byrne

Decided: January 5, 1977.

ALAN J. KARCHER AND MARGARET T. KARCHER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS GUARDIANS FOR ELIZABETH A. KARCHER, ELLEN M. KARCHER AND TIMOTHY Q. KARCHER, MINORS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BRENDAN T. BYRNE, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RICHARD C. LEONE, TREASURER OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, AND FREDERICK BURKE, COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, EACH IN HIS SOLE CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS



Cohen, J.c.c.

Cohen

[146 NJSuper Page 534] This case presents another aspect of the ongoing development of public school financing in New Jersey. Robinson v. Cahill (V), 69 N.J. 449 (1976), found the

Public School Education Act of 1975 to be facially constitutional, if fully funded. L. 1975, c. 212, N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-1 et seq. Plaintiffs complain that the act's formula for distribution of equalization aid to school districts unconstitutionally abridges their freedom of religion. That matter was not addressed by the Supreme Court in Robinson (V), or affected by its limited retention of jurisdiction. Plaintiffs also assert that the implementation by the Commissioner of Education of the equalization aid formula is contrary to the directions of the act. That is a matter of statutory construction that was not involved in Robinson (V), and is neither exclusively a school law dispute to be handled administratively, N.J.S.A. 18A:6-9; Silverman v. Millburn Bd. of Ed. , 134 N.J. Super. 253 (Law Div. 1975), nor a state agency determination to be appealed directly to the Appellate Division. R. 2:2-3(a); cf. Colon v. Tedesco , 125 N.J. Super. 446 (Law Div. 1973). Both matters are here on cross-motions for summary judgment. There are no material facts in dispute.

The adult plaintiffs are residents and taxpayers of Sayreville. They are parents of the three minor plaintiffs, who are of school age. One attends a parochial school in the borough, one a parochial school outside the borough, and one a local public school. Plaintiffs have standing to raise the questions presented here. One of the plaintiffs, incidentally, is a member of the State Assembly.

The Public School Education Act of 1975 (hereinafter Chapter 212) was the legislative response to the constitutional problems raised in Robinson v. Cahill (I through IV) -- 62 N.J. 473 (1973), cert. den. 414 U.S. 976, 94 S. Ct. 292, 38 L. Ed. 2d 219 (1973), 63 N.J. 196 (1973), cert. den. 414 U.S. 976, 94 S. Ct. 292, 38 L. Ed. 2d 219 (1973); 67 N.J. 35 and 67 N.J. 333 (1975) and 69 N.J. 133 (1975). In it was erected a framework on which to build a "thorough and efficient system of free public schools." N.J. Const., Art. 8, § 4, Para. 1. A key part of Chapter 212 is §

18's allocation formula for equalization aid to local school districts for current expenses. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-18. The purpose of the formula is to distribute state aid to local districts so as to adjust local variations in ability to support the schools through real property taxes.

The two major variables in the application of the formula to each district (other than local budgeted expenses) are (1) the value of real property tax ratables in the district and (2) the number of pupils for whose education the district is responsible. Basically, the poorer the district in ratables, the more aid per pupil and, the more pupils, the more total aid. The calculation is more complex than described, but, for present purposes, the model is sufficiently accurate.

The pupils to be counted in each district are those described by the phrase "resident enrollment." The meaning of that phrase will be explored below. It is enough for now to say that it plainly means public school pupils only, and does not include nonpublic school pupils. It is this distinction that creates plaintiffs' constitutional argument.

Two of the minor plaintiffs have chosen to attend parochial school, with their parents' approval. The family decision, the plaintiffs say, was an exercise of the free expression of their religious beliefs, an exercise that is constitutionally guaranteed. That decision, they argue, was one that cost them money under Chapter 212 because it deprived them and the taxing district of state aid revenues. Imposing such cost burdens on parochial school families is constitutionally impermissible, they say, and conclude that the only way to rectify the unlawful imbalance is to include parochial school pupils in the local pupil count for the state aid formula.

The result in the state aid calculations would be both a decrease in the local tax base per pupil and an increase in the pupil count, thus affording a certain potentiating effect. And all based, of course, on phantom pupils and nonexistent costs. The relative impact on each district would depend on

the number of nonpublic school students from families resident ...


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