Education Law Center




Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2017):

Revenue: $1,621,872
Expenses: $1,953,793
Assets: $1,087,593

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The Education Law Center in New Jersey (ELC-NJ) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works in left-of-center education policy advocacy and litigation in New Jersey. While the ELC-NJ describes itself as a “voice for New Jersey’s public school children,” ELC-NJ represents and is funded by teachers’ unions. 1


The ELC-NJ was founded in 1973 by Rutgers Professor Paul Tractenberg. Tractenberg was involved in the 1970s Robinson v. Cahill case in the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ultimately determined that the state was obligated to provide “equal educational opportunity for children.” During the case, Tractenberg learned that the left-of-center Ford Foundation was looking to fund a “public interest law project” for education advocacy. Tractenberg reached out to the Ford Foundation, which agreed to help him launch the Education Law Center in 1973. Tractenberg directed and worked at the ELC-NJ alongside many of his Rutgers students and colleagues. The Ford Foundation provided the vast majority of the ECL-NJ’s funding for at least five years. 2 3

In 1981, ELC-NJ executive director Marilyn Morheuser, a student of Tractenberg’s and his successor as director of ECL-NJ, filed the Abbot v. Burke case, which became a landmark education legal case. In the Abbot v. Burke decision, the New Jersey State Supreme Court held that “the state must ensure urban children an education enabling them to compete with their suburban peers.” 4

The ELC-NJ has remained involved in school funding litigation but has also expanded to organizing for interested groups of parents and teachers in New Jersey and education policy activists around the country. 5

ELC-NJ activism initiatives often align with teachers’ unions’ priorities, particularly preserving and expanding public school funding. ELC-NJ is one of the groups supporting Public Funds Public Schools, an left-wing initiative started by the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center which seeks to limit school choice by opposing public support for private-school tuition and preventing education tax credits, and education savings accounts from being used to pay for private school tuition. 6

ELC-NJ is also involved with the union-aligned Alliance for Quality Education and Our Children/Our Schools. 7


The ELC-NJ is closely affiliated with and funded by teachers’ unions. The donors listed on the ELC-NJ website include: 8

In addition, ELC-NJ is funded by various educational organizations (Educational Testing Service, Great Schools of New Jersey), foundations (Taub Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, the Fund for New Jersey), and activist organizations (Southern Poverty Law Center, Disability Rights New Jersey). 9

In 2017, ELC-NJ received $1.64 million in contributions and grants and $1.77 million in total revenue, up from 2016’s total of $1.5 million in grants and $1.62 million in total revenue. Of the $1.77 in total revenue, ELC-NJ spent $1.32 million on salaries with the rest going to various operational expenses, including fundraising. In 2017, ELC-NJ spent $237,156 on lobbying. 10


David Sciarra, a civil rights attorney and graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Temple Law School, has been the executive director of ELC-NJ since 1996. In addition to the ELC-NJ’s work in New Jersey, Sciarra has participated in a number of education lawsuits across the country. 11

Elizabeth Athos, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is the senior attorney for ELC-NJ. She joined ELC-NJ in 1997. Her work has primarily focused on anti-harassment and bullying issues in New Jersey schools, including working to pass the New Jersey “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” law. 12 13

The ELC-NJ Board of Trustees is made up of other left-of-center education activists, including a variety of education policy attorneys. Others include:

  • Fred Frelow, senior program ffficer at the Ford Foundation. 14
  • Morgan Battle, a strategic advisor to for-profit and non-profit education organizations. 15
  • Steve Swetsky, executive director of the New Jersey teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association. 16

Vincent Giordano, former executive director of the New Jersey Education Association. Giordano has made controversial statements on education in the past, telling students who could not afford charter schools that, “Life’s not always fair,” a comment that led then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) to call for Giordano’s resignation. 17


  1. Education Law Center, Supporters. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  2. [1] Rutgers Law School, Remarks of Paul Tractenberg, March 22, 2017. Accessed September 14, 2020.
  3. Education Law Center, Mission and History. Accessed September 14, 2020.
  4. [1] New Jersey Department of Education, History of Funding Equity. Accessed September 14, 2020.
  5. Education Law Center, Mission and History. Accessed September 14, 2020.
  6. [1] Public Funds Public Schools, About. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  7. [1] Alliance for Quality Education, About Us. Accessed September 15, 2020.,students%20regardless%20of%20zip%20code.
  8. [1] Education Law Center, Supporters. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  9. [1] Education Law Center, Supporters. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  10. [1] Guidestar, Education Law Center, 2018 990. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  11. [1] Education Law Center, ELC Executive Director David Sciarra Receives Hollenbeck Award From NJ Commission On Professionalism In The Law, October 11, 2018. Accessed September 14, 2020.
  12. Education Law Center, Board and Staff. Accessed September 14, 2020.
  13. Education Law Center, ELC’s Athos Honored for Anti-Bullying Work, May 13, 2014. Accessed September 14, 2020.
  14. LinkedIn, Fred Frelow profile. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  15. Battle Strategic, Clients. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  16. [1] New Jersey Education Association, “Steve Swetsky named NJEA executive director,” October 08, 2019. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  17. Portnoy, Jenna, “Christie calls for NJEA official’s resignation after controversial response to school voucher question,”, February 09, 2012.

Supported Movements

  1. Public Funds Public Schools
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: September - August
  • Tax Exemption Received: May 1, 1986

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Sep Form 990 $1,621,872 $1,953,793 $1,087,593 $184,078 N $1,502,272 $0 $12,812 $288,012 PDF
    2016 Sep Form 990 $2,029,424 $1,987,823 $1,360,708 $185,494 N $1,920,619 $0 $12,910 $257,116
    2015 Sep Form 990 $1,931,687 $1,842,266 $1,246,361 $152,649 N $1,816,482 $0 $13,930 $246,565 PDF
    2014 Sep Form 990 $2,046,162 $1,821,433 $1,380,271 $374,407 N $1,773,524 $187,075 $10,223 $240,993 PDF
    2013 Sep Form 990 $1,891,812 $1,737,063 $1,054,606 $323,129 N $1,607,430 $185,000 $10,524 $221,667 PDF
    2012 Sep Form 990 $1,459,743 $1,602,219 $765,883 $232,317 N $1,190,608 $189,000 $10,647 $213,792 PDF
    2011 Sep Form 990 $1,612,438 $1,677,209 $714,905 $82,372 N $1,554,072 $0 $12,968 $222,397 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Education Law Center

    60 PARK PL STE 300
    NEWARK, NJ 07102-5514