Heed Advocates’ Calls to Reject Governor Christie’s Illegal Cuts to School Aid Formula
Since Governor Christie’s FY13 budget address in late February, supporters of public education have urged the Legislature to step up and protect the State’s commitment to fair school funding for all New Jersey schoolchildren. It is now official – legislators from across the state passed a budget that rejects unilateral changes proposed by the Governor that would have gutted New Jersey’s landmark school aid formula, the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA).
In his proposed budget, the Governor lowered the aid amounts in the SFRA formula that school districts would receive to educate at-risk (poor) students, English language learners, and students in high poverty schools. The Governor also proposed a thoroughly discredited method of determining student enrollment for aid purposes. These proposed changes would have permanently reduced the level of resources for the state’s most vulnerable students and neediest districts. The proposals also bypassed the Legislature’s statutory role in the process through which any changes are supposed to be made to the SFRA.
Advocates immediately went to work to shine a light on the Governor’s backdoor budget maneuvers. Through the Our Children/Our Schools (OC/OS) statewide network, individuals and organizations reached out to their communities, the press, and legislators with one clear message – protect public school children by preserving the only school funding formula ever declared constitutional by the NJ Supreme Court.
Efforts – including town hall meetings, op eds, phone banking and more – culminated in the delivery to the Legislature of a letter prepared by OC/OS and signed by 60 organizations.
The letter called out the Governor for attempting to change the funding formula, which had been passed with bipartisan support just four and a half years earlier, through obscure budget language rather than through the transparent legislative review process established in the SFRA statute.
But the Legislature wouldn’t go along with this. In response to sustained grassroots advocacy, legislative leaders struck the Governor’s school funding provisions from the FY13 budget and replaced them with language that kept the formula intact. They pressed the Administration to produce the “adequacy report” required by the SFRA and indicated their intention to review fully any proposed formula changes before the next budget cycle.
The OC/OS letter also addressed the dramatic cuts in school aid since February 2010 – a pattern that continues in the Governor’s proposed budget, which underfunds schools by more than $750 million. While the formula remains in place, school districts have been underfunded by $3.6 billion since Governor Christie took office.
The Administration’s proposed school aid figures for FY13 will stand, meaning that 97 school districts will see their state aid cut and several hundred districts will remain below the “adequacy” levels set by the SFRA Clearly, there is still work to be done; preserving the formula was an important step, but school districts must be returned to the levels of state funding to which they are entitled by law.
But this week public school advocates – including the 60 organizations on the OC/OS letter and many other groups and countless individuals – can be proud of their work. They helped the Legislature appreciate the importance of protecting the school aid formula and the significance of rejecting the Governor’s unilateral attempts to dismantle it.
Most importantly, advocates did not rest until legislators understood what the Governor’s proposals would mean for students, families and schools all around the state. The power of advocacy was on full display the past few months. The result was a significant victory to build on.
Policy and Outreach Coordinator
973-624-1815, x 24
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications