Resource: Abbott v. Burke: A Model for Reform Through State Court Litigation

By: Winsome G. Gayle

May 1, 2000

On February 5, 1981, the Education Law Center, attorneys for New Jersey public school children in four of the most impoverished cities in the state, filed a complaint against several state officials, demanding a "thorough and efficient" education. This case was filed as Abbott v. Burke -- 100 N.J. 269, 495 A.2d 376, 26 Ed. Law Rep. 670 (1985) --. Nearly two decades later, the state's Department of Education is in the process of implementing significant changes ordered by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The story of Abbott v. Burke presents us with the difficulties of institutional reform litigation on the state level.

This paper focuses on the case's journey through the New Jersey Supreme Court, and considers the elements necessary to successfully effectuate such a litigation. Abbott v. Burke is a complex case, taking place throughout the course of approximately two decades. This paper holds the case as a success for the plaintiff class. The decisions of the New Jersey Supreme Court have led to the implementation of progressive educational policies and the infusion of funds into poor communities throughout New Jersey. The case, most importantly, changed the dialogue in the state surrounding issues of education. The dialogue initially centered on whether property-poor school districts should be compared to wealthier districts when considering education funding. The dialogue now centers on the varied ways to implement means of improving schools in the property-poor districts. The question this paper focuses on is how the plaintiffs achieved this level of success.

Resource Type(s):

Case Studies

Institution: Harvard

Related Cases:

Abbott v. Burke