ELC Calls On Legislature to Provide 5% Increase in State Formula Aid
In a statement to the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees, Education Law Center is calling on the Legislature to flatly reject Governor Christie’s proposal to provide almost no state aid increase for New Jersey school districts in the 2014-15 school year.
The Governor’s proposal marks the fifth straight year of his refusal to comply with the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), New Jersey’s landmark weighted student formula enacted with bipartisan support in 2008, and upheld as constitutional by the NJ Supreme Court in 2009.
The Governor proposes to increase school aid by a mere $20 a student, and to allocate this paltry sum in off-formula categories. All aid under the SFRA is frozen at last year’s levels, including foundational equalization aid, special education aid, and transportation and security aid.
If the Governor’s proposal is enacted, districts would be faced with a fifth year of aid cuts or no real aid increase, triggering yet another round of painful cuts to teachers, support staff, intervention services and programs essential to ensuring students a thorough and efficient education.
The Governor’s miniscule aid increase comes against a backdrop of an Administration that has amassed a cumulative $5.1 billion under-funding of districts under the SFRA formula. And the Office of Legislative Services’ analysis of the Governor’s FY15 proposal confirms ELC data showing that, as a result of this massive under-funding, the aid levels in 80% of our school districts are below what they were in 2009-10, when the Governor took office. Statewide, districts are now more than $275 million below their state aid levels five years ago.
In addition, districts are now struggling to implement a host of new, unfunded mandates from the Department of Education, including teacher and principal evaluation systems, Common Core Standards, and the new PARCC tests.
Even more troubling, the Governor has failed to run the SFRA formula altogether. In effect, the Governor has abandoned the SFRA, issuing state aid notices to districts on February 25 that did not use the district’s weighted student enrollment, base cost and at-risk and bilingual pupil weights and other formula components. This failure leaves educators, parents and legislators without the requisite information on districts’ adequacy budgets and the gap between the Governor’s aid proposal and the level of funding they should be receiving under the SFRA formula’s cost, weights, aid amounts and other operative parts.
To address this growing crisis, ELC has called on the Legislature to revise the Budget as follows:
- Enact Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 118 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 72. ACR 118 notifies the Governor to immediately run the SFRA formula with the proper adjustments, and notify each school district of the district’s adequacy budget and the maximum amount of aid payable to the district under the SFRA’s cost, weights and other parameters. These notices are not only required by law, but also a fundamental prerequisite for the Legislature to have an informed deliberation on the school aid budget for the 2014-15 school year.
- Increase K-12 state aid in all SFRA formula categories by at least 5%, or $370 million. This is the minimum amount necessary to stave off another round of cuts to staff, programs and services, and to chip away at the substantial current gap between district adequacy budgets and SFRA funding levels.
- Increase preschool education aid by 5% or $30 million. This increase must be expressly dedicated to the expansion of high quality preschool in high need universal and targeted districts in order to begin the phase-in of the Abbott preschool program statewide over the next five years.
“Quite frankly, four years of ignoring the SFRA and failing to provide even the most minimal of formula increases – and failing to fund preschool expansion – has been too long for our students to wait,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “This level of underfunding is taking a toll on educators and schools and threatens our standing as among the top performers in public education in the states and in the world.”
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