Expresses objection to certain recommendations in Educational Adequacy Report.

NJEA supports ACR-172 (Watson Coleman, Schaer, Wimberly, Spencer) / SCR-134 (Ruiz, Whalen, Rice).  This resolution expresses the Legislature’s objection to certain recommendations included in the Educational Adequacy Report which the Commissioner of Education delivered to the Governor and the Legislature last December.

NJEA agrees that these recommendations would have a detrimental impact on the state’s neediest students.  While the Report’s adjustments for inflation and documented cost factors in accordance with the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) are probably appropriate, we believe that recommending adjustments to the funding weights in SFRA is not appropriate until the formula has been fully funded for three years, as required by the Supreme Court.

The resolution objects to proposed reductions in "weight" in SFRA specifically related to three areas:  at-risk, English language learners (ELL), and special education students.  Reducing the current weights could have a devastating effect on many districts, particularly the high needs former Abbotts and other districts at the lower end of the DFG scale. For example, it is possible that a district could lose $1,000 or more in state aid per “at-risk” pupil if the at-risk weight is reduced from 57% to 46%.  These districts are already struggling to provide sufficient services for high needs populations.

The Report seeks to adjust these weights by reverting to weights initially developed in the 2003 Professional Judgment Panel process.  The Department of Education used the same or similar weights in calculating state aid for FY2013.  However, the Legislature enacted higher weights based on testimony and recommendations from many education experts who think that even the current SFRA weights are insufficient.  Considering evidence contradicting the changes proposed by this Report, NJEA concurs with language in the resolution that it is not wise to make changes in the formula “in the absence of substantive analysis.”

There are also other constitutional mandates to consider in this matter:

  • The SFRA funding formula, as enacted by the Legislature in 2008, was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court in Abbott XX (2009) on the condition that it be fully funded for three years before any changes are made to the formula.
  • Subsequently, in Abbott XXI (2011), the Court confirmed that, at least for the 31 neediest districts, three years of full formula implementation would be required before the State could “undertake a look-back analysis that is meaningful and relevant for the Abbott districts so that SFRA continues to operate optimally and as intended in future years for pupils in those districts.”

The Governor and the Department of Education cannot disregard a legislative mandate and violate a judicial one to institute arbitrary and unnecessary diminutions of essential educational aid for New Jersey children. We assert that the Supreme Court, let alone the DOE, cannot accurately evaluate the efficacy of the SFRA without three years of full formula implementation.

NJEA urges you to support ACR-172 / SCR-134.