Education Law Center has issued a press release condemning Gov.Christie’s proposed state school aid budget as “paltry,” “not keeping pace with inflation,” “legally improper,” “arbitrary,” and “more evidence of Gov. Christie’s total disregard for the funding needs of New Jersey’s public schools and at-risk children.”
See my coverage yesterday at WHYY; here’s a district-by-district breakdown of aid figures.
ELC takes umbrage at Christie’s disrespect of the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, former-Governor Corzine’s regulatory mechanism intended to bypass Abbott District designations by having state school aid “follow the child.” ELC fought the implementation of SFRA in State Supreme Court. Consequently, the “Special Master” assigned by the justices ruled that SFRA was kosher, as long as the State fully funded the new formula.
That’s never happened. By court decree, then, Abbott allocations must rule the day. While Abbott districts saw some large increases in Christie’s 2014 school aid proposal – $7,559,176 to Elizabeth, for example and $3,056,727 to Camden – the total package is not enough to fulfill the requirements of SFRA.
ELC may go back to Court for what would be the 22nd Abbott ruling. Meanwhile, it will pressure legislators to increase allocations.
The press release itself raises a few questions. For example, ELC criticizes the proposed budget because 93 of the 285 districts that saw (basically) no increases from last year are “below adequacy,” the SFRA-based calculation of the lowest amount of aid needed to provide an “thorough and efficient” education. (See today’s Spotlight for a particularly sneaky way that the Christie Administration managed to create the perception of aid increases without actually giving districts more money.)
In the context of “adequacy,” ELC points to Elmwood Park, Seaside Heights, and Chesterfield Township, which it describes as some of the “smallest in the state” that still saw “the largest percent increases.” It’s true: Elmwood Park got an increase of $500K, but the district is well below adequacy, spending only $10,229 per pupil, unable to balance its budget, and particularly challenged by a high enrollment of children with disabilities. (See my earlier coverage.) Seaside Heights, which has its own problems, got an additional $156K Chesterfield Township got another $60K.
Really? The best example of Christie’s arbitrary disregard of the needs of schools children is an apparently overly-generous $60K allocation? Seems like ELC’s press release writers could do better than that.