Advocates are warning legislators that Governor Chris Christie’s proposed FY16 State Budget will force another crippling round of budget cuts in NJ public schools for the sixth straight year.
Governor Christie recently said that the biggest single disappointment of his six years in office has been his inability to get rid of the School Funding Reform Act, NJ’s statewide funding formula. The Governor again had harsh words for the NJ Supreme Court’s Abbott v. Burke rulings protecting the landmark formula, which allocates aid based on the actual cost of giving all students the opportunity to achieve State academic standards.
In testimony before the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees, Education Law Center warned that the Governor’s budget, if not rejected by the Legislature, will mark six years in which students are deprived of teachers, support staff and other essential resources provided by the SFRA formula. Under Governor Christie’s tenure, total SFRA underfunding through 2015-16 will reach $7.1 billion.
For FY16, the Governor has once again proposed no increase in formula funding to any school district, even those substantially “below adequacy,” or below the level of resources the SFRA requires for students to achieve NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) standards.
Under the Governor’s budget, 80% of NJ districts will receive aid in 2015-16 at levels below what they received in 2009-10.
The Governor also proposes no funding to expand New Jersey’s acclaimed Abbott preschool program to other, high poverty communities around the state. Under the SFRA, preschool expansion should have been completed last year. Governor Christie, however, staunchly refuses to approve any new funding to ensure all NJ at-risk children have access to high quality early learning and school readiness programs.
The Governor’s ongoing campaign to starve public schools of essential resources comes at a time when the NJDOE is imposing a host of new, costly mandates, including new teacher and principal evaluation systems, the Common Core and online PARCC tests, interventions for low performing priority and focus schools, and other requirements.
Numerous pro-public education advocacy organizations are standing up to warn lawmakers about the impact of underfunding on NJ schools. These advocates include Save Our Schools NJ, the Paterson Education Fund, Advocates for Children of NJ, Save Our Schools March, the state’s professional educator organizations, local school board members and others. All are expressing grave concerns about the steady and deep erosion of resources available for schoolchildren, making it harder for them to succeed in school and achieve standards.
ELC and other advocates are also demanding the Legislature remove Governor Christie’s proposal to divert $2 million in public school funds to pay for vouchers for unregulated private and religious schools. When the Governor trotted this same proposal out two years ago, ELC advised lawmakers the NJ Constitution prohibits the creation of new education programs through the State budget, a pernicious practice known as “logrolling.” The Legislature removed the voucher proposal from the budget, and ELC is urging lawmakers to do the same this year.
ELC also put legislators on notice that the Governor’s three-year review of the SFRA formula is due by September 1, 2015. The Governor delayed the last formula review in 2013, and the Governor’s attempt to reduce the cost of education in the formula was soundly rejected by the Legislature. ELC is calling on the Governor and Commissioner of Education to thoroughly analyze how underfunding of the formula, along with new mandates, is impacting the delivery of a thorough and efficient education to students in all NJ schools and districts.
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