ELC Demands Constitutional School Funding
In a swift response, the NJ Legislature passed a concurrent resolution rejecting Governor Chris Christie’s proposal to significantly reduce the “weights,” or costs, of providing resources to low income (“at-risk”) students and limited English proficient students (LEP) in the state’s weighted student funding formula, the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 131 was passed on March 11, 2016, by the Senate and Assembly and transmitted to the Governor, as required by law.
In early March, Governor Christie’s Education Commissioner, David Hespe, issued the mandated three-year review of the SFRA base education cost, at-risk and LEP weights, special education and preschool aid amounts, and other cost components in the formula. The review – known as the Educational Adequacy Report (EAR) – recommended sharp reductions over the next three years in the cost of programs for at-risk and LEP students, a key element of the SFRA’s landmark weighted student method of funding NJ public schools. The EAR contained no data, research or other analysis to support the proposed at-risk and LEP cost cuts.
Education Law Center estimates that the Governor’s proposed cuts in the at-risk and LEP weights would reduce school districts’ “adequacy budgets” under the SFRA by $520 million statewide.
The Legislature’s rejection of Commissioner Hespe’s proposed cost cuts in ACR131 mean they do not become law and cannot be used in the SFRA formula for the next three years. The Legislature found the Commissioner presented no “evidence to support the reductions based on the [SFRA] formula’s operation in the preceding three years” and directed that the at-risk and LEP weights remain at the current higher levels.
On the heels of the Legislature’s decisive action, ELC, on behalf of the Plaintiff school children in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, notified Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy that the NJ Department of Education’s school aid notices for 2016-17 issued to districts on February 20 violate the SFRA and the 2010 and 2011 Abbott Supreme Court rulings by not utilizing the legally proper costs and weights in the formula.
ELC is demanding that the Acting Attorney General take immediate action to have the NJDOE reissue the aid notices using the proper at-risk and LEP weights and increasing preschool aid by the consumer price index, as mandated by the SFRA. ELC is also demanding that the urban districts covered by the Abbott rulings be provided with full state aid under the SFRA in the FY17 State Budget. The Governor has proposed a budget which is hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid below what the formula requires for these districts and their students.
If necessary, and as a last resort, ELC has placed the Acting Attorney General on notice that, if steps are not promptly taken to address Governor Christie’s unconstitutional aid notices and amounts, the Abbott Plaintiff school children will have no alternative but to bring the matter before the NJ Supreme Court.
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