Democrats who control the State Senate threatened May 2 to shut down state government unless lawmakers agree to school funding changes they have been seeking.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the Senate won’t allow a budget to land on the governor’s desk unless it puts the State on track toward fully funding all districts, based on the current formula.
Sweeney’s proposal calls for phasing out “adjustment aid,” which only districts that were over adequacy receive over a period of five years, lifting a cap that limits how much additional state aid districts can receive based on growing enrollments, and phasing in additional funding for education over five years.
During his Feb. 28 budget address, Governor Christie challenged the Legislature to come up with a new funding formula within 100 days, after months of stalemate among legislative leaders — including between Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto — on the issue. The two legislative leaders are generally in agreement that the current funding formula should be tweaked. But they have butted heads on how exactly to proceed.
Prieto has said he supports making changes to adjustment aid and the enrollment growth cap, in addition to providing additional supports for special education and pre-school.
“I want to negotiate the new state budget without punishing school districts, playing politics or hurting low-income children. That was and remains my goal,” Prieto stated. “Last week, members of the Assembly Budget Committee from throughout the state worked cooperatively to focus accountability on Gov. Chris Christie’s Republican administration for failing to properly fund schools for eight years. That cooperative approach needs to continue if we’re going to reach a productive agreement.”
At the start of the budget committee hearing which followed the press conference, Sen. Paul Sarlo, the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee chairman asked acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington if the Christie administration would support a school-funding plan Sweeney has been advocating. Harrington said legislators could “count on us to be partners in this conversation.”
Money from districts that are “over adequacy” — meaning they spend more than what the state considers is necessary to provide a “thorough and efficient” education — could be redistributed to under adequacy districts, she said.
And, she said, “adjustment aid absolutely has to be part of the conversation.”
Governor Christie has said he is hopeful the state could make some changes to improve the situation in many historically underfunded districts, albeit not a complete remake of the funding formula. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
Other lawmakers who spoke during the morning news conference with Sweeney included Sarlo and Sens. Teresa Ruiz, Linda Greenstein, Patrick Diegnan and Nilsa Cruz-Perez.