Newark, NJ — May 4, 2011
Education Law Center, representing the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), filed a legal brief this week with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, challenging the Commissioner of Education’s failure to comply with a statutory mandate to complete an independent study of New Jersey’s current special education funding method.
Under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the Commissioner was required to secure completion of an independent study, together with recommendations to the Legislature on needed adjustments to the state’s special education funding method, by June 30, 2010 — nearly one year ago.
SPAN initially filed its appeal of the Commissioner’s failure to comply with the SFRA law in October 2010. SPAN then learned that NJDOE had commissioned the Denver consulting firm, Augenblick Palaich and Associates (APA), in September 2010 to conduct the study, with an agreed-upon completion date of late January 2011. However, the study was not completed by the contracted deadline and, in the absence of any explanation for the delay and a legally binding deadline for the release of the study, SPAN decided to pursue its request that the courts force the NJDOE to comply with the law.
Currently, the SFRA provides for special education funds to be distributed under a controversial “census” method, in which school districts receive funds to serve students with disabilities based on the statewide average classification rate and not on the actual numbers of special education students served by each district.
The mandate for an independent study was added to the SFRA by the Legislature in response to concerns raised by SPAN and other advocates that the census method could unfairly hurt districts with higher numbers of students with disabilities. While the NJ Supreme Court approved the census method in its 2009 Abbott v. Burke ruling, it did so with the understanding that “[t]he Commissioner’s obligation to review the census-based methodology in 2010 provides reassurance that any potential deficiencies will be corrected.”
“Parents and the public were entitled to know by June 30, 2010, whether ‘census’ funding adequately meets the needs of New Jersey’s students with disabilities,” said Elizabeth Athos, the ELC attorney representing SPAN. “The timely completion and release of a statutorily-mandated independent study and recommendations about the census method should have been one of the State’s education priorities.”
Education Law Center Press Contact:
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications