The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today takes up Governor Christie’s proposals for “flat” school aid. If enacted, the FY15 State Budget will bring a fifth straight year of cuts to staff, programs and services in many NJ districts.
Data from the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services show four of five districts now receive less state aid than in 2009-2010, before the Governor took office.
An Education Law Center analysis shows the cumulative shortfall over these five years between “adequate” K-12 funding levels under NJ’s school funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – and what districts have actually received in the Christie era now tops $5 billion.
The SFRA also mandated expanding high quality Abbott preschool to another 47,000 at-risk children across the state by 2013-14. The Governor has blocked the Legislature from providing any of that funding.
In addition to proposing almost no aid increase, the Governor didn’t even bother to operate the SFRA formula to calculate districts’ “adequacy budgets” and state aid amounts, prompting an ELC request for intervention by the NJ Supreme Court.
Making matters worse, the State has mandated costly new programs, including a new educator evaluation regime, new curriculum standards and new state standardized tests. Each of these mandates brings new costs that the state is not funding.
For example, the TEACHNJ Act requires districts to implement new educator evaluation procedures and data systems, along with an expansion of observation and evaluation responsibilities for local administrators. A recent study by Montclair State University found that “on average, the minimum amount of time dedicated solely to classroom observations will increase by over 35%.”
The Ridgewood Board of Education estimated that the district has spent close to $600,000 so far on training and staff time to implement the new teacher evaluation mandates, with additional expenses to come. The Board unanimously passed a resolution requesting the State reimburse these costs.
The TEACHNJ Act mandates the State to “provide the funds necessary to effectuate the provisions” of this law, but Governor Christie’s proposed budget offers no new funds for implementation.
Similarly, the directive to implement the new “Common Core State Standards” comes without any new funding.
NJ has had State curriculum standards for almost two decades. The “Core Curriculum Content Standards” (CCCS) played a key role in the state’s 2008 school finance reform. The SFRA formula was based on rigorous study of the resources needed for all students to meet the CCCS, with additional funds for at-risk students, English language learners and students with disabilities. Despite a court mandate to keep the SFRA up-to-date, there’s been no credible study of the added costs to deliver the Common Core “college and career-ready” standards to all NJ students.
The Common Core also comes with new standardized, computer-based tests. While the NJ Department of Education surveyed district capacity to administer the new tests –being field-tested this spring – the results, including cost estimates, have yet to be released.
One 2012 report offered a “midrange projection” of $225 million in technology costs for the new tests. Several districts have estimated or actual added costs of $500,000 (Verona), $255,000 (Princeton), $400,000 (Flemington-Raritan) and $927,000 (Bernards Township). The Governor has proposed an increase of $10 per student for the new tests, a paltry amount not based on actual costs.
“School underfunding and unfunded mandates are a double whammy,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “To ensure all children have the resources they need to achieve academic standards, the Legislature must revise the Governor’s proposed budget by adding at least a 5% increase, or $370 million, in state school aid to prevent cuts and provide some relief from the crushing weight of these new mandates.”
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