ELC Issues Guidance on September 2015 Educational Adequacy Report
Education Commissioner David Hespe has told legislators he will submit the three-year review of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), New Jersey’s landmark weighted student funding formula, on time this September. The SFRA requires the Commissioner to review the formula’s operation every three years and recommend adjustments to the base cost, at-risk and English language learner (ELL) pupil weights, and aid amounts for the next three years
The SFRA statute limits the recommendations that may be included in the report, known as the Education Adequacy Report (EAR). The Commissioner can only recommend “adjustments” to the base per pupil costs; preschool costs; security and transportation aid costs; special education classification rates and costs; and grade level, at-risk and ELL weights, which determine the cost of the additional programs and services needed by low-income (at-risk) and ELL pupils.
The Commissioner cannot recommend changes to the formula or alterations in the way in which state aid is distributed to districts. Substantive changes to the SFRA can only be approved by the Legislature by amending the SFRA law itself.
Under the SFRA, after the Commissioner submits the EAR, the Legislature has 90 days to accept or object to the proposed recommendations. If the Legislature objects to some or all of the EAR recommendations, the Commissioner has 30 days to submit a revised report.
The previous EAR was due in September 2011, but wasn’t filed by then Commissioner Chris Cerf until December 2012. In February 2013, the Legislature rejected Commissioner Cerf’s report and his recommendation that the cost of educating New Jersey’s at-risk and ELL pupils be sharply and arbitrarily reduced.
To guide the Department of Education in preparing the September 2015 EAR, Education Law Center yesterday sent a letter to Commissioner Hespe underscoring the strict limits of the EAR’s parameters and bringing to the Commissioner’s attention several key issues that must be addressed in the report.
ELC notes that the SFRA has been underfunded for years, and therefore the formula has not been properly implemented. This failure limits the extent to which the formula’s cost and aid components can be reviewed and adjusted. In addition, the past few years have seen multiple unfunded mandates imposed on school districts, including new teacher evaluations and PARCC tests. ELC is urging the Commissioner to address these issues, along with concerns about preschool and special education costs, in the September EAR.
“We commend Commissioner Hespe for agreeing to file the EAR with the Legislature on time,” said ELC Executive Director David Sciarra. “And we expect that he will heed the lessons from the 2012 report, when the Legislature summarily rejected Commissioner Cerf’s lowered weights because they had no support in research and data obtained from actual formula implementation.”
“SFRA underfunding is reaching a crisis point for many school districts,” Mr. Sciarra added. “We would welcome the opportunity to talk directly to Governor Chris Christie about the urgent need to get school funding back on track in next year’s State Budget. But the EAR is not the vehicle for that discussion, as the Legislature well knows.”
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications