NJPSA testified before the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees March 18 and 19 on the FY2015 state budget, urging the Committees to: request additional information from the NJDOE on PARCC tech readiness; eliminate the redundant “Administrative Cap” or “cap within the cap” legislatively this year; and to “run the formula” (do an analysis on the difference between what formula aid should be versus what it is under this year’s budget in order to be fully informed as this year’s budget process begins). The Association also advocated for a moratorium on additional mandates and urged caution around specialized pockets of funding – such as this year’s $5 million “Innovation Fund” that would provide grants in aid for “innovative practices in implementing extended school day and year.” The Association also thanked the Administration for their commitment to making the 4/7 pension payment required.
Formula Aid to Schools
The proposed $34.4 billion budget includes a modest increase in aid to schools as well as several increases in preschool aid, funding for continued expansion of the Interdistrict Public School Choice program and non-public school aid. Specifically, this year’s aid to schools increased by $38 million from the current fiscal year.
However, according to recent analysis by the Office of Legislative Services, the proposed FY2015 funding levels are still below the amount of aid districts received in FY2010 (School Aid Analysis by the Office of Legislative Services). And, for the first time since the New Jersey Supreme Court endorsed the School Funding Reform Act, the Administration is not even using the formula in determining changes in state education aid next year. Instead, the budget proposal seeks to give every district an additional $20 more per pupil as based upon enrollment, regardless of where the district may fall under the SFRA. The increase amounts to an average of less than 1 percent overall in state aid.
The move is directly counter to the SFRA, which aimed through a complex mechanism to earmark additional funding to meet the specific needs of students in any given district. NJPSA raised concerns about the departure from the formula before both Legislative panels, urging them to at least “run the formula” to understand where legislatively the State should be with regard to State aid for schools versus what is forecasted to be provided. The Association also urged the Committee to consider the “basis from which the numbers sprang.” Last year, the state aid districts received was based upon a modified methodology which included determining aid on attendance rather than enrollment as well a significant reduction in the multipliers that districts with high concentrations of at-risk children receive.
Calling this year’s budget a “blend” of funding methodologies in light of use of last year’s numbers as a basis for this year’s state aid, NJPSA also weighed in on the budget proposal’s additional $20 per pupil aid which is broken into two pockets, “PARCC Readiness” and “Per Pupil Growth Aid” totaling $13.5 million each. NJPSA urged the committees to request data from the New Jersey Department of Education based upon the “tech readiness” surveys the Department has conducted over the last year in hopes of understanding where districts are in regard to PARCC readiness versus the aid districts can expect to receive.
NJPSA additionally spoke on the Governor’s proposed $5 million “Innovation Fund” which would create a competitive aid program for schools to beta test extended day and year programs, urging caution, particularly in light of the limited details within the budget as well as the distinct limits in formula aid provided.
Administrative Cap Elimination
Further, NJPSA urged the Committee members support recently introduced legislation, A-2740 (Deignan, Johnson, Jasey), that would eliminates current school district budget per pupil administrative cost limits giving districts the budgetary flexibility they need – particularly in the area of personnel – to meet the new evaluation requirements wrought by the enactment of the TEACHNJ law.
Investment in Early-Childhood Ed
NJPSA also urged the Committees to consider the benefits of early-childhood education. The budget includes an additional $5 million to support preschool initiatives in New Jersey ($653 million) but that amount merely “holds the line” on investment in early-childhood education, including preschool and full-day kindergarten. Citing an investment as an area where big gains can be realized, NJPSA urged the Committees to support and advocate for any federal funding that may become available as well as to commit to consider expansion as New Jersey’s economic outlook improves.
Pension Thank You
Finally, NJPSA thanked the Administration and the Legislature for its commitment to supporting instructional leaders through payment of the pension contribution. The proposed budget makes this year’s projected 4/7th pension payment of 2.25 billion ($670 million increase over last year) as required by legislation enacted in 2011. In 2011, the Governor and Legislature made several changes to the retirement system for current and future retirees. In exchange, the state agreed to pay an increasing sum every year into the pension funds after years of State missed payments.