The Major Concerns with the Educational Adequacy Amount Proposed in the New School Funding Formula As Applied to the Abbott Districts
The first concern that the representative of the Abbott districts, Mr. Shapiro, raises is that the new bill is a school funding formula. He argues that it is a number of school aid figures with adjustments from now into the foreseeable future. He calls it an evolved form of QEA. He claims that the money does not follow the child. According to Mr. Shapiro, the Commissioner made that clear in the hearing. In his view, the money follows the district. Mr. Shapiro is concerned that the bill is then in a remedial phase of litigation.
About the prior acts of this Legislature, he says that they are unconstitutional in so far as they affect the Abbott districts. He goes on to say that the Court has already told the legislature that if they come up with a new funding formula, it has to meet certain standards to substitute for parity and needs-based funding. These are the hallmarks of the Abbott decision which are being eliminated by the new funding formula, according to Mr. Shapiro.
He reminds the Legislature that Commissioner Librera said that there are two things that have to be done. One is that the socio-economic status of the community has to be changed so that it no longer qualifies. And two is they have to establish that the local tax share can pick up whatever amount the State funding now eliminates. Both things, he is concerned, are absent in the new bill and that funding for Abbott districts cannot be had based on discretionary decisions.
Mr. Shapiro quotes the bill’s preamble as saying that Abbott districts will have sufficient funds to continue those Court-identified programs, positions, and services that are proven to be effective. He says that they do not have any data from the DOE on what programs have proven to be effective, and what the present costs of those programs are in the Abbott districts and whether the Abbott districts will have the funding to provide those programs under the new funding approach.
The Abbott districts’ representative stresses that preschool, up to this point, has worked because it has been needs-based. It has become an object of nationwide acclaim because it is needs-based. It responds to the needs of the 3- and 4-year-olds in the Abbott districts. The program that will now be trotted out to the districts - the non-Abbotts and the Abbotts alike - will not be needs-based. It will be based on a formula. Mr. Shapiro is afraid there’s no provision in the new bill for a valid district - a new district implementing preschool, or an old Abbott district that’s continuing preschool - to provide for the needs of the children if they exceed the formula.
Mr. Shapiro sums up his concerns by saying that the bill will result in an erosion of the quality of preschool, because preschool cannot be funded, in a quality way, at the level in which this formula proposes. According to him, the average per-pupil figures are below the statewide average. So the Legislature is starting with an average base-pupil amount that is below what districts are currently spending. It appears to him to be far below what the I and J districts are spending. Those districts provide quality education in his view.
One of Mr. Shapiro’s concerns is that the legislation, the way it is written now, is in contradiction with many of the Court’s mandates.
The Legislature inquires if Mr. Shapiro thinks that the bill, which took five years, is a complete failure and that they needed to start all over again. To this he replies in the negative. When asked what should be done in order to salvage parts of the bill, Mr. Shapiro says that if one had an appropriately developed base pupil amount, parts of the bill would be salvageable. If there were at-risk numbers that documented that they were really based on what the needs are, that would make it salvageable according to Mr. Shapiro.
He adds that if the bill provided for needs-based funding beyond what the formula provided, that would make it very salvageable, because what that would allow the districts to do if they have these fixed costs that aren’t meeting what their needs are, or they have cost-of-living increases that exceed the 2 percent provision in the current bill.
The Legislature clarifies that they are going to try to observe, for the next three years, the level of success of those programs and what is the migration of students from those programs into neighboring districts, ring districts, other communities, or those who stay in the Abbott districts. This is what they understand the need of the adjustment aid to be.
Another concern that Mr. Shapiro expresses is that the districts getting 2 percent are going to get a cut next year. He thinks the same about the non-Abbotts, too. He’s afraid that the waiver does not allow a showing of need, quoting the Commissioner to support his claim.
He blames the Legislature for trying to mask what they should be doing. He suggests that they should be getting the data that establishes the relevant figures to see if they are reliable and justifiable, that an average per-pupil spending of approximately a thousand dollars less than the statewide average, and much more less in the I and J districts, does reflect what is needed to accomplish a thorough and efficient education.
He supports a fair and reliable funding formula for everyone in the state, instead of one that satisfies everyone. He’s also against a funding formula that results in deep cuts for the poorest, most disadvantaged, and special needs children. Mr. Shapiro highlights that the issue that is most important is getting more money to the districts that have not got the appropriate share in the past.
Because the funding is being held harmless, the judge wonders how it is going to be a disaster, where programs, all of a sudden, stop happening when the Court hasn’t taken the funding and cut it by a third. Nevertheless, Ms. Doyle is concerned about the districts spending above the adequacy level being required to return their State aid to the local taxpayers.
The Major Concerns Regarding the State's Affluent I and J Districts
Ms. Doyle is particularly concerned about the equalization of special education. She wants to point out that when special education is equalized, and coupled with the lower adequacy amount, and the 4 percent tax increase, they will have no choice but to take money from regular education programs and put those to the mandated special education programs. That will put community members against community members. She’s afraid of the community members resenting the fact that more money is going for the children with real, proven special needs that is not being given to the regular education students.
She is of the opinion that in addition to not getting any aid, the Legislature is telling her community that 11 percent less than what they currently spend is adequate to provide education. She goes on to suggest that that cost could be reduced significantly by looking at some of the mandates that come from the Department of Education
The assemblymen worry if fifty-five million for 4,000 students, which amounts to around $14,000 per student, is not enough. The assemblymen claim that I and J districts are the reality of why there’s such a cost differential in Abbott. I and J tie the formula, and that I and J districts are the reason they are debating $532 million in the hearing that day. Mr. Cryan in particular thinks that I and J districts drive the Abbott districts’ funding, which is affecting the property taxes. That in turn is forcing - for the first time in that State’s history – taxpaying residents out of the state. The assembly is afraid that this is going to cause an even further pinch on the State’s finances.
The irony about the debate, in the view of the assembly, is that there is no uniformity, and that the formula is trying to drive some baseline uniformity. Because, historically, a community like Ms. Doyle’s has the ability to choose to raise their rates to a particular level, which is why they are I and J district. Other communities can’t, which is how the Legislature claims it comes back to 618 school districts, in various respects.