New Jersey Revised Statutes § 18a:7f-44 - Findings, Declarations Relative To School Funding Reforms.

18A:7F-44 Findings, declarations relative to school funding reforms.

2.The Legislature finds and declares that:

a.The Constitution of the State of New Jersey states that the Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years. (N.J. Const. art. VIII, sec. 4, par.1).

b.The State, in addition to any constitutional mandates, has a moral obligation to ensure that New Jersey's children, wherever they reside, are provided the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. Any school funding formula should provide resources in a manner that optimizes the likelihood that children will receive an education that will make them productive members of society.

c.Although the Supreme Court of New Jersey has held that prior school funding statutes did not establish a system of public education that was thorough and efficient as to certain districts, the Court has consistently held that the Legislature has the responsibility to substantively define what constitutes a thorough and efficient system of education responsive to that constitutional requirement.

d.Every child in New Jersey must have an opportunity for an education based on academic standards that satisfy constitutional requirements regardless of where the child resides, and public funds allocated to this purpose must be expended to support schools that are thorough and efficient in delivering those educational standards. In turn, school districts must be assured the financial support necessary to provide those constitutionally compelled educational standards. Any school funding formula should provide State aid for every school district based on the characteristics of the student population and up-to-date measures of the individual district's ability to pay.

e.New Jersey's current public school funding formula, established under the provisions of the "Comprehensive Educational Improvement and Financing Act of 1996," (CEIFA) P.L.1996, c.138, has not been used to calculate State aid for public schools since the 2001-02 school year. Any new school funding formula should account for changes in enrollment and other significant developments, providing relief to those districts that have experienced substantial enrollment increases.

f.The decisions in the Abbott cases have resulted in frequent litigation and a fragmented system of funding under which limited resources cannot be distributed equitably to all districts where at-risk children reside, instead dividing the districts sharply into Abbott and non-Abbott categories for funding purposes without regard to a district's particular pupil characteristics and leading to needlessly adversarial relationships among school districts and between districts and the State.

g.In the absence of a clear, unitary, enforceable statutory formula to govern appropriations for education, crucial funding decisions are made annually, in competition for limited State resources with other needs and requirements as part of the annual budget negotiation process, utilizing many different classes and categories of aid, leading to an uncertain, unpredictable, and untenable funding situation for the State and school districts alike.

h.This act represents the culmination of five years of diligent efforts by both the Executive and Legislative branches of State government to develop an equitable and predictable way to distribute State aid that addresses the deficiencies found in past formulas as identified by the Supreme Court. Working together toward this common goal, the Department of Education and the Legislature engaged nationally recognized experts in education funding and provided significant opportunities for stakeholder involvement and public input to assist in formulating and refining a comprehensive school funding model that has been validated by experts. The formula accounts for the individual characteristics of school districts and the realities of their surroundings, including the need for additional resources to address the increased disadvantages created by high concentrations of children at-risk.

i.The formula established under this act is the product of a careful and deliberative process that first involved determining the educational inputs necessary to provide a high-quality education, including specifically addressing the supplemental needs of at-risk students and those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and a determination of the actual cost of providing those programs. The formula provides adequate funding that is realistically geared to the core curriculum content standards, thus linking those standards to the actual funding needed to deliver that content.

j.In recognition of the unique problems and cost disadvantages faced by districts with high concentrations of at-risk students, it is appropriate to reflect in the formula a greater weight as the district's proportion of at-risk students increases. In addition, the new formula recognizes the disadvantages of an expanded group of students by including in the definition of at-risk those students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Expanding the definition of at-risk students in this manner will significantly increase the resources flowing to districts with high concentrations of these low-income students.

k.In light of the demonstrable, beneficial results and success of the current Abbott preschool program, it is appropriate to build upon this success by incorporating in the formula an expanded high-quality preschool program for all children who qualify for free and reduced price meals in all districts. It is appropriate for the formula to acknowledge that at-risk children do not always receive the same educational exposure at an early age as their peers and to provide the additional resources necessary through high-quality preschool to prepare every child to learn and succeed.

l.It is appropriate to reflect in this formula the inherent value of educating a child in the least restrictive environment and, whenever possible, in that child's neighborhood school alongside his peers. The new funding formula should provide incentives for keeping classified students in district.

m.It is also appropriate to recognize in the formula the need for all schools to incorporate effective security measures, which may vary from district to district depending upon the at-risk student population and other factors, and to provide categorical funding to address these important requirements.

n.In recognition of the potentially wide variability in special education costs, even for the same category of disability, from district to district, it is appropriate for the new funding formula to mitigate the impact of that variability by establishing a census model based on the actual Statewide average excess cost of educating special education students and by providing for an increase in State aid for extraordinary costs incurred by districts.

o.It is imperative that any new school funding formula work in conjunction with the key school accountability measures that have been enacted in recent years to promote greater oversight, transparency, and efficiency in the delivery of educational services. These accountability measures include the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, the "School District Fiscal Accountability Act," P.L.2006, c.15 (C.18A:7A-54 et seq.), P.L.2007, c.63 (C.40A:65-1 et al.) which established the duties and responsibilities of the executive county superintendent of schools, and P.L.2007, c.53 (C.18A:55-3 et al.).

p.Together with a renewed legislative focus on and commitment to providing sufficient means to maintain and support a high-quality system of free public schools in the State, a new funding formula supported by significantly increased State resources will ensure compliance with all statutory and constitutional mandates. Districts that were formerly designated as Abbott districts will be provided sufficient resources to continue those Court-identified programs, positions, and services that have proven effective while being provided the flexibility to shift resources and programmatic focus based on the needs of their students and current research.

q.The time has come for the State to resolve the question of the level of funding required to provide a thorough and efficient system of education for all New Jersey school children. The development and implementation of an equitable and adequate school funding formula will not only ensure that the State's students have access to a constitutional education as defined by the core curriculum content standards, but also may help to reduce property taxes and assist communities in planning to meet their educational expenses. The development of a predictable, transparent school funding formula is essential for school districts to plan effectively and deliver the quality education that our citizens expect and our Constitution requires.

L.2007, c.260, s.2.

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Last modified: October 11, 2016