Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Education Law Center News

Governor Blocks Fair School Funding For All Districts

Governor Chris Christie's line-item veto of the FY 2012 State Budget approved by the Legislature brought an abrupt halt to the grassroots effort to restore the Governor's massive $1.6 billion cut in school aid in 2010-11, and bring all districts to the funding level set by the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the State's school aid formula.

The Governor's veto falls hardest on 221 mostly moderate- and middle-income districts with school budgets below the level set by the SFRA as necessary to deliver the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) to all students, especially low-income (at-risk) students, English language learners (ELL), and students with disabilities.

"The Governor's veto is deeply disappointing because it deprives thousands of students in every county the resources they need to achieve rigorous academic standards and graduate college- and workforce-ready," said David G. Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center.

The final FY12 State Budget does, however, provide full SFRA formula funding for 31 of NJ's poorest urban communities, as mandated by the NJ Supreme Court's May 24 ruling (Abbott XXI) in the landmark Abbott v. Burke education equity case. The FY12 Budget also adds funding for other districts.

While district specific breakdowns have yet to be released, below are the estimated aid increases for the coming school year:

  • $500 million in K-12 and preschool aid for the 31 poor, urban districts, bringing these districts to full formula funding under the SFRA;

  • $334 million in K-12 aid to other urban, rural and suburban districts, presenting a 2% boost over the 2009-10 state aid level.

However, the Governor's veto left many critical public education needs under-funded or not funded at all. These include:

  • Well over $500 million in K-12 school aid to bring all remaining districts to full funding under the SFRA formula.

  • Funding for the expansion of the nationally recognized Abbott preschool program to 80 additional high-need communities, and to all low-income children in the remaining districts, as required by the SFRA.

  • Elimination of funding for NJ After 3, which provides extended learning time to at-risk children across the state.

  • A $13.2 million cut in before- and afterschool "wraparound" care, a program critical to the success of childcare providers participating in the Abbott preschool program.

With the FY12 education budget mostly settled, New Jersey's equity advocates are beginning to turn their attention to the FY13 budget process. The most critical task will be to keep the SFRA formula fully intact as the mechanism to determine the cost and funding levels for public education in New Jersey. The SFRA, adopted with bi-partisan support in 2008, and approved by the Supreme Court in 2009, is considered a model for the delivery of funding for rigorous, standards-based education for all students, especially those at-risk, regardless of zip code.

Advocates will be looking to secure funds in the FY13 State Budget to move all remaining districts to full SFRA funding, to begin the long overdue expansion of high quality preschool across New Jersey, and to restore the devastating cuts to afterschool and wraparound programs.

"The FY12 Budget makes some progress toward delivering fair and adequate funding to all of our 1.3 million public school students, but we still have a way to go," said Mr. Sciarra. "The hard work of finishing off the job left by the Governor's unfortunate veto begins now."

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