In a likely preview of Gov. Chris Christie’s next state budget for public education – and the debates that will surely follow – his administration has put forward a report that proposes increasing some levels of school funding while reducing others.
The proposals are part of the long-awaited Educational Adequacy Report submitted to the Legislature, which is required under the state’s 2008 School Funding Reform Act as a way to periodically update the state-aid formula to meet changing education costs.
Sent to the Legislature on Friday, the largely technical report by state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf reiterated many of Christie’s long-standing criticisms that additional funding under the state Supreme Court’s landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation – the impetus for much of the funding law – had failed to result in improved education for students.
“The conclusion is inescapable: forty years and tens of billions later, New Jersey’s economically disadvantaged students continue to struggle mightily,” Cerf wrote in the report.
“There are undoubtedly many reasons for the policy failure,” he continued. “But chief among them is the historically dubious view that all we need to do is design an education funding formula that would ‘dollarize’ a ‘thorough and efficient system of free public school’ and educational achievement for every New Jersey student would, automatically and without more, follow.”
Cerf’s funding proposal, in effect, would repeat what Christie presented in the current year’s state budget, increasing the base amounts to which all students would be entitled for a so-called adequate education while reducing the extra money – or so-called funding “weights” -- that would be apportioned for students who are low-income or have limited English language skills.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature ultimately rejected the proposed language last year, saying it would potentially lead to deep cuts for high-poverty school districts and that it wanted to review it as part of the adequacy report.
Legislative staff said that the latest report was received late Friday, and that Senate and Assembly leaders will review it in the coming weeks. Under the law, the Legislature has 90 days to come back with its own resolution or the administration’s numbers will stand.
At the same time, Christie – running for re-election -- will be submitting his next state budget in the coming months. It is sure to include the new school-aid formulations for what is the largest single chunk of state spending, setting off its own debates.
In an interview last night, Cerf said the proposals would only benefit schools overall and reiterated arguments from last year that any reductions for at-risk and bilingual students were “extremely modest” and “trivial in terms of the overall increases.”
“Actually, this is a pretty generous document,” he said of the report.
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