N.J. DOE Can Keep School Funding Records Private

     (CN) – The New Jersey Department of Education can refuse to disclose documents used to make decisions on public school funding, the state Supreme Court ruled. The justices unanimously upheld the agency’s right to assert the deliberative-process exemption to the Education Law Center’s records request.

     The law center represents children in litigation over funding for the state’s poorest school districts. It challenged the revised funding formula established in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, which the state DOE helped develop.
     In 2006, the center asked for all records used to analyze education costs. The agency released many of the requested documents in partially redacted form. The center then challenged the redactions as a violation of the Open Public Records Act. Specifically, the center wanted an un-redacted copy of a 2003 “simulation memo” detailing statistical data on three possible funding options.
     Both the trial court and the appellate court ordered the DOE to release an un-redacted copy of the memo, but the high court reversed.
     Justice LaVecchia said a government record is subject to the deliberative-process privilege when it’s used in the decision making process, and disclosure “would reveal deliberations that occurred during that process.”
     The court dismissed the center’s claim that the public’s interest in disclosure outweighs the agency’s interest in non-disclosure.
     “We have no doubt that disclosure of the Simulation Memo, created during the process of DOE’s deliberative and developmental activities associated with a revised approach to school funding … presents the danger of chilling future program improvement and other agency decision-making,” LaVeccharia wrote.

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