In response to the NJ Legislature’s passage of Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 134, Governor Chris Christie has reversed course on cutting the education costs for at-risk and English language learner (ELL) students in the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the state’s weighted student formula.
In early March, Governor Christie’s Education Commissioner, David Hespe, arbitrarily reduced the formula weights through the Educational Adequacy Report (EAR), the mandated three-year review of the operation of the cost components in the SFRA. These lowered weights were used in the FY17 state aid notices distributed to districts and resulted in the underestimation of most districts’ adequacy budgets.
The Legislature acted swiftly to reject the lowered weights in ACR134, thereby ensuring that the Governor’s attempt to cut education costs do not become law and cannot be used in the SFRA formula for the next three years. In addition, on March 17, Education Law Center, acting on behalf of urban school children in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, demanded that the Attorney General take immediate action to have the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) reissue the aid notices for FY17 using the proper at-risk and ELL weights.
On May 2, NJDOE issued new aid notices to all school districts. While the aid notices do not change the state aid levels in the Governor’s proposed FY 17 State Budget, they do provide the most accurate calculation of districts’ adequacy budgets. Under the SFRA, the adequacy budget represents the level of spending for each district to provide all students with a thorough and efficient education under the New Jersey Constitution.
Statewide, 547 of the 577 district adequacy budgets grew by a total of $594 million. Adequacy budget increases ranged from a high of 6% in districts with the largest proportions of at-risk and ELL students to no change in districts that do not enroll these students. Eighteen districts that were classified as above adequacy in the original aid notices were reclassified as below adequacy in the reissued aid notices. If the formula were funded, this would entitle those districts to greater annual increases under the state aid growth cap. This chart shows how the adequacy budget changed in each district.
“We thank the Legislature for moving quickly to reject Governor Christie’s attempt to lower the cost of educating New Jersey’s most vulnerable students,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The Legislature now has the correct calculation of districts’ adequacy budgets, including districts that are currently spending below the level necessary to afford their students a constitutional education.”
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