The New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) has notified the state’s poor urban districts of a $7.9 million increase in preschool education aid in FY12, ensuring the Christie Administration’s full compliance with the NJ Supreme Court’s May 2011 order in the landmark Abbott v. Burke education equity litigation. (View a chart of the additional preschool aid by school district.)
The DOE’s action comes after Education Law Center, as counsel to the plaintiff schoolchildren in the Abbott case, notified Attorney General Paula Dow that the FY12 State Budget signed by Governor Christie in July 2011 failed to fully fund the preschool aid component of the State’s school funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA). While Governor
Christie’s budget increased K-12 aid under the SFRA by $450 million for urban students, and by approximately $300 million for students in other districts, no increase in preschool aid was included, even though it is required under the SFRA formula.
In its May 2011 ruling (Abbott XXI), the Supreme Court found Governor Christie’s $1.6 billion cut in school aid unconstitutional because it violated a 2009 directive that the SFRA formula be fully funded through 2011. The Court ordered the Governor to restore the cuts in FY12, including all increases required by the SFRA formula. While ELC argued for restoration of the cuts to all school districts statewide, the Court limited its order to the students in the 31 poor urban districts that are the plaintiffs in the Abbott litigation.
“We are pleased that Attorney General Dow moved quickly to direct the State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff and Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf to fully comply with the Abbott XXI order, which includes increasing aid for critically needed preschool programs in our poorest communities,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “This aid will enable community providers, Head Start, and public school classrooms to maintain the quality that has made the Abbott preschool program the nation’s best.”
Governor Christie vetoed the FY12 State Budget passed by the Legislature on June 30, 2011, which included a $1.1 billion increase in K-12 state aid. The increase would have made it possible to comply with the Court order regarding the urban districts, while also fully funding an additional 221 districts currently spending under the levels set by the SFRA formula. As a result of the Governor’s veto, students in middle and moderate income districts are still without the resources the State has determined they need under the SFRA formula.
ELC Executive Director David Sciarra noted that public school advocates are looking towards the FY13 budget to provide full formula funding for all districts.
“We need to finish off the job left by the Governor’s unfortunate veto this year. Our focus now is to make sure the Governor doesn’t tamper with the fairness and equity of New Jersey’s school funding formula, and that next year’s budget brings full funding to rural and suburban districts across the state.”
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