In approving the statewide formula in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA), the New Jersey Supreme Court set a high constitutional bar for the Legislature: reach and maintain full funding of each school district’s “adequacy budget,” or the level calculated under the formula to deliver a rigorous standards-based education for all students.
This constitutional imperative must be the touchstone for the Legislature’s review of Governor Phil Murphy’s proposed $200 million in new state aid in the FY20 State budget.
Education Law Center, in testimony to the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees, is calling on the Legislature to substantially increase – and strategically target – new school aid in the FY20 Budget to move the 182 districts below adequacy and owed state aid towards their constitutional level of funding.
Among the underfunded districts are 25 of the 31 “Abbott” districts, whose adequacy budgets have eroded over the last decade. In the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, the Supreme Court imposed an enhanced burden on the Legislature to fully fund the adequacy budgets for students in these districts.
ELC recommends the Legislature align the State Budget with the constitutional mandate for adequate SFRA funding by:
- Increasing state aid and targeting the increases only to the 182 below adequacy districts owed state aid. This requires reallocating nearly $30 million from districts with budgets in excess of adequacy to districts below adequacy. An investment of $484 million in FY20 would get these districts on track to full state funding within four years.
- Reversing the proposed $40 million in state aid cuts to 26 below adequacy districts, ensuring these districts do not fall further from their adequacy targets.
- Raising the tax cap back to 4% – the initial SFRA cap – and mandating property tax levy increases in below adequacy districts with local revenue gaps in their adequacy budgets. Below adequacy districts in municipal overburden, or with total equalized tax rates well above the state average, should be exempt from the mandate to increase property taxes.
- Reallocating $40 million of the $120 million sent to private schools to fund below adequacy districts, as the first installment of a three-year phase out of private school aid. There is simply no justification for diverting scarce taxpayer dollars to private schools when so many of our public schools are chronically underfunded.
“We urge the Legislature to substantially increase formula aid in the FY20 State Budget and focus all of the increase on districts below their SFRA adequacy budgets, especially the Abbott districts,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “It’s time for the Legislature to seriously heed the constitutional call to ensure full funding of all district adequacy budgets and a thorough and efficient education for all students across the state.”
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