STATE OF NEW JERSEY
INTRODUCED JANUARY 14, 2013
Senator M. TERESA RUIZ
District 29 (Essex)
Senator JIM WHELAN
District 2 (Atlantic)
Assemblywoman BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN
District 15 (Hunterdon and Mercer)
Assemblyman GARY S. SCHAER
District 36 (Bergen and Passaic)
Assemblyman BENJIE E. WIMBERLY
District 35 (Bergen and Passaic)
Assemblywoman L. GRACE SPENCER
District 29 (Essex)
Assemblywoman MILA M. JASEY
District 27 (Essex and Morris)
Senators Rice, Cunningham, Gill, Gordon, Pou, Assemblymen Diegnan, Coutinho, Assemblywomen Vainieri Huttle, Sumter and Assemblyman Conaway
Expresses Legislature’s objection to certain recommendations included in the Governor’s Educational Adequacy Report.
CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT
A Concurrent Resolution objecting to certain recommendations included in the Governor’s Educational Adequacy Report.
Whereas, In 2002, the Department of Education entered into a contract with a nationally recognized consulting firm with extensive expertise in education finance policy to implement the professional judgment panel methodology to determine the cost of providing educational services to all New Jersey students in a manner that is consistent with the State’s standards; and
Whereas, The analysis resulted in, among other things, a base per pupil cost that is considered the funding necessary to educate an elementary school student who does not have any special needs, an at-risk weight that reflects the additional cost associated with educating low-income students, and an LEP weight that represents the additional cost associated with educating a student enrolled in a bilingual education program; and
Whereas, After completing the professional judgment panel analysis, the department issued the “Report on the Cost of Education” in December of 2006 to publicize the results, and subsequently entered into a contract with three nationally recognized experts in education finance policy to review the report’s findings. The department also conducted a series of public hearings to receive additional input on the report; and
Whereas, In February of 2007, the department publicly released a report that summarized the comments and findings of the three reviewers, and subsequently began a series of meetings with a three-member advisory panel to discuss the final development of a comprehensive school funding formula that could be applied to all school districts; and
Whereas, In December of 2007, the department released a report titled, “A Formula for Success: All Children, All Communities,” which provided the substantive recommendations for a new school funding law. In the report, the department recommended an additional weight for at-risk students that ranged from 0.47 to 0.57, depending on the percent of students in a district who are low-income. In making this recommendation, the department noted that the at-risk weights resulting from the professional judgment panel analysis were counterintuitive, since the weight did not systematically increase as the concentration of at-risk students in the district increased. The department, after consultation with the advisory panel, also recommended an additional LEP weight of 0.50 for bilingual education students, somewhat higher than the weight that resulted from the professional judgment panel analysis. The department also recommended a weight for combination students, those who are both at-risk and bilingual education students, equal to the sum of the at-risk weight and 0.125; and
Whereas, The department’s report also proposed modifying the method by which school districts would receive extraordinary special education aid, designed to assist districts in paying the costs of educating special education students for whom districts incur considerably higher costs. Specifically, the department recommended reimbursing school districts for a portion of costs in excess of $40,000, for special education students who are educated with general education students, or $55,000, for special education students who are educated in separate programs; and
Whereas, The “School Funding Reform Act of 2008,” P.L.2007, c.260 (C.18A:7F-43 et al.), enacted on January 13, 2008, incorporated most of the recommendations included in the department’s December report. The act also specified that no later than September 1, 2010, and every three years thereafter by September 1, the Governor, after consulting with the Commissioner of Education, is to submit an Educational Adequacy Report to the Legislature. In the report, the Governor is to propose the base per pupil amount, the per pupil amounts for full-day preschool, the weights for grade level, county vocational school districts, at-risk pupils, bilingual pupils, and combination pupils, the cost coefficients for security aid and transportation aid, the State average classification rate for general special education services pupils and for speech-only pupils, the excess cost for general special education services pupils and speech-only pupils, and the extraordinary special education aid thresholds; and
Whereas, In May of 2009, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” met constitutional muster, and may be applied to the 31 former Abbott districts. In its decision, the Court noted that the determination of constitutionality was dependent, in reference to the Educational Adequacy Report, “...on the mandated review of the formula’s weights and other operative parts after three years of implementation.” The Court further stated, “[t]he three year look-back, and the State’s adjustments based on that review, will provide more information about the efficacy of this formula. There should be no doubt that we would require remediation of any deficiencies of a constitutional dimension, if such problems do emerge”; and
Whereas, In February 2012, the department released the “Education Funding Report.” Based on statements made by the department, this report was not issued to satisfy the statutory requirement established in the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” to review the efficacy of the law. However, this report did provide a series of recommendations that were to be provided in the Educational Adequacy Report required by the school funding law; and
Whereas, Among the recommendations included in the Education Funding Report was a reduction in the weight associated with at-risk students, to a minimum of 0.42 and a maximum of 0.46. The report also recommended reducing the weight for bilingual education students to 0.47, and reducing the weight for combination students to the sum of the at-risk weight and 0.1052; and
Whereas, The department’s explanation for these recommendations is crystallized by a single sentence in the report, in which the department states that, “Unsatisfied with the reasons for the inflation of the PJP-determined weights upward, the [d]epartment recommends that the at-risk, LEP, and combination at-risk/LEP weights in the SFRA funding formula be adjusted downward to where they were originally set by the PJPs”; and
Whereas, This explanation is devoid of the type of research and analysis of the school funding level necessary to achieve the State’s standards as required by the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008,” or as expected by the Supreme Court in its ruling; and
Whereas, While a footnote in the report did thank four nationally recognized experts in education policy and research for their contributions to the report, the department has not provided any summary of the comments or recommendations provided by these experts, thus precluding one from comparing their recommendations to those that were ultimately included in the Education Funding Report; and
Whereas, On December 14, 2012, 835 days after the date stipulated in the school funding law, the Governor submitted the Educational Adequacy Report to the Legislature. The report did not include any new substantive analysis regarding the resources that are necessary to provide educational services to all students consistent with the State’s standards. Rather, it largely restated or slightly modified the recommendations included in the Education Funding Report; and
Whereas, The department also recommended increasing the extraordinary special education aid thresholds by $5,000. In the report, the department stated that it, “...anticipates that this change will allow for only those students with the highest cost services to be eligible, and will help ensure that the State can reimburse those costs at the higher rate provided for in the SFRA.” This explanation suggests that the recommendation is motivated by a desire to reduce State expenditures, not on any measure of a reasonable benchmark that should be used to provide aid to school districts to minimize the fiscal stress that may occur when a school district incurs exceptionally high costs for a small number of students; and
Whereas, The Legislature does not object to the recommendations included in the Educational Adequacy Report with respect to the base per pupil amount, the per pupil amounts for full-day preschool, the weights for grade level and county vocational school districts, the cost coefficients for security aid and transportation aid, the State average classification rate for general special education services pupils and for speech-only pupils, and the excess cost for general special education services pupils and speech-only pupils. The Legislature does not object to these recommendations because they are based on the use of the most current relevant data available or the application of the consumer price index; and
Whereas, In the absence of more substantive analysis, the Legislature believes that the weights for at-risk pupils, bilingual pupils, and combination pupils and the extraordinary special education aid thresholds should remain the same as those established under the school funding law when enacted; and
Whereas, The “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” stipulated that the Governor should transmit the Educational Adequacy Report to the Legislature no later than September 1, 2010, and no later than September 1 every three years thereafter. However, given the lateness of this report, it is impractical to expect that the next report would be transmitted to the Legislature within nine months. Accordingly, it is the Legislature’s understanding and expectation that the next Educational Adequacy Report will be transmitted to the Legislature no later than September 1, 2015, in accordance with the frequency established in the school funding law. This timeframe will allow the Governor, in consultation with the commissioner, to conduct the research and analysis, which was lacking in this report, to determine if the various parameters proposed in the report truly support the needs of school districts in educating students to the State’s standards; now, therefore,
Be It Resolved by the Senate of the State of New Jersey (the General Assembly concurring):
1. The Legislature hereby notifies the Governor that it objects to the recommendations included in the Educational Adequacy Report that reduce the weights associated with at-risk students, bilingual education students, and combinations students, on the basis that the recommendations are not supported by any research or analysis demonstrating that the use of the higher weights included in the school funding law has provided school districts with more resources than required to provide for the additional educational needs of these students.
2. The Legislature further objects to the recommendation that the thresholds that determine eligibility for extraordinary special education aid be increased by $5,000 on the basis that the recommendation does not attempt to assess the fiscal implications that the change would have on school districts.
3. Duly authenticated copies of this concurrent resolution, signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly, and attested by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the General Assembly, shall be transmitted to the Governor and to the Commissioner of Education.
4. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 4 of P.L.2007, c.260 (C.18A:7F-46) to the contrary, the Commissioner of Education shall submit a revised report to the Legislature responding to these objections no later than 30 days after a copy of this concurrent resolution is transmitted to the Governor and the commissioner, or prior to the transmittal of the State budget message to the Legislature by the Governor pursuant to section 11 of P.L.1944, c.112 (C.52:27B-20), whichever occurs first.
This concurrent resolution notifies the Governor that the Legislature objects to specific recommendations included in the Educational Adequacy Report. The report recommends that the school funding law be modified to decrease the additional weights for students who are at-risk (defined as students who are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program), bilingual education students, and combination students (defined as those who are both at-risk and bilingual education students). The Legislature objects to these recommendations because they are not based on any research of the school funding level necessary to achieve the State’s standards, as required under the school funding law or as expected by the Supreme Court in its decision.
The report also recommends increasing the extraordinary special education aid thresholds by $5,000. Under current law, a school district may be partially reimbursed for certain costs in excess of $40,000, for a special education student served in a district-operated program, or in excess of $55,000, for a special education student served in a privately-operated program. This recommendation would reduce the number of students for whom a district may seek a partial reimbursement from the State, and the overall amount of aid that a district would receive. The Legislature objects to this recommendation because it appears to be motivated by a desire to reduce the State’s obligation without regard to the potential fiscal implications for school districts.
This concurrent resolution directs the Commissioner of Education to submit a revised report to the Legislature that responds to these objections no later than 30 days after a copy of the resolution is transmitted to the Governor and the commissioner, or before the transmittal of the Governor’s budget message to the Legislature, whichever occurs first.