In his proposed FY14 State Budget, Governor Christie continues to pursue his objective of cutting funding to New Jersey public schools far below the levels needed for children to achieve academically, as established in the state’s landmark school funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA).
In testimony to the Senate Budget Committee on March 20, Education Law Center warned legislators that the Governor’s school aid proposal for FY14 is so inadequate that it doesn’t even make up for the loss resulting from the Governor’s massive cut in FY11, especially for districts with growing numbers of at-risk and bilingual students and students with disabilities.
ELC also warned that the Governor’s proposal, if adopted, would mark the fourth straight year of either funding cuts, flat funding or minimal aid increases and that this pattern is undermining New Jersey’s longstanding commitment to providing all students the resources necessary to achieve the State’s academic standards, regardless of where they live or in which public school district they attend school.
Specifically, ELC’s analysis of the Governor’s proposal shows:
? The total loss to districts of state aid under SFRA over the last five years will increase to $5.1 billion.
? Districts will not get $1.2 billion in aid increases they are entitled to receive under the SFRA in FY14 from the current FY13 level. Districts in moderate and middle income communities will lose the most from the failure to fund the formula increase.
? The proposed 1.2% aid increase is so small it won’t even begin to make up the Governor’s $1.6 billion cut in FY11; 478 districts, mostly in middle class communities, will still remain $301 million below their FY10 funding level.
The Governor is also proposing a special tax assessment on districts to reimburse the Schools Development Authority (SDA) for the principal and interest on bonds issued to finance previously completed capital facilities projects. Because the Department of Education will withhold the SDA tax assessment from districts’ school aid, the SDA tax effectively wipes out any aid increase in 294 districts across the state.
“The Governor’s bottom line is to make certain most districts get no real increase in state aid, and to reduce aid wherever possible,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “Unfortunately, our schoolchildren have had to endure this pattern over the four years that Governor Christie has been in office.”
ELC also called on the Legislature to address several other problems with the Governor’s education budget:
? Reject the Governor’s unilateral use of reduced costs for educating poor students and bilingual education students, arbitrary reductions formally rejected by the Legislature in Senate Concurrent Resolution 134.
? Strike the Governor’s $2 million “brazen gambit” to enact the pending private school voucher bill – the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) – by “logrolling” the voucher bill into the Annual Budget bill, a blatant violation of the State Constitution.
? Direct the SDA to follow through on 2007 legislation by delegating pending, urgently needed school facilities projects to urban districts so that they undertake the planning, construction and completion of these projects on their own and in an expedited fashion.
? Redirect the $5 million proposed for “competitive grants” for districts to expansion of the successful Abbott preschool program to other communities and at-risk children across the state, as outlined in the SFRA.
“We urge the Legislature to reshape Governor Christie’s proposal so that the FY14 Appropriations Act ensures our public schools have the resources needed to educate all students so they graduate college and career ready and become productive citizens of our state,” Mr. Sciarra said.
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