March 30, 2010

By: Ed Law Center
Source: Ed Law Center

Over $300 million, or 42%, of Governor Christopher Christie’s massive $1.06 billion cut in K-12 school funding for FY11 falls on categorical aid designated for special education programs for students with disabilities in NJ’s public schools.

The aid category — Special Education Categorical Aid — is a component of the State’s new school funding formula, the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA), and covers 1/3 of the total cost of providing educational programs and services for students classified w ith disabilities under the federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

An ELC analysis  shows that, of the $730 million in special education categorical aid provided to school districts under SFRA in FY10, the Governor is proposing to cut $306 million. The special education cuts fall hardest on the middle income districts, which would lose 49% of their special education allocation, and wealthy districts, slated to lose 65% of their allocation. The special education cuts are proportionately higher in these districts since special education represents a large portion of their support from the State.

Although the percentage cuts in the low and moderate income districts is smaller, the amount of special education dollars eliminated from their budgets is nonetheless substantial — a total of $102 million. Coupled with cuts in other aid categories, the Governor’s proposal would deliver a staggering blow to New Jersey’s poorest children with disabilities.

In addition to the cuts in special education categorical aid — the largest of the SFRA aid category cuts — the Governor is proposing not to fund $27 million in Extraordinary Aid required by the SFRA formula to pay for tuition and other programs for students w ith severe disabilities.

In proposing these cuts to special education, the Governor is ignoring a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling last May that requires that state aid be provided in the FY11 State budget at the levels required by the SFRA formula. The SFRA formula does not permit a cut in special education aid. Disability advocates are also deeply concerned that this huge reduction in special education funding will jeopardize New Jersey’s compliance with the federal mandate to provide children with disabilities with a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

In addition to the substantial cut in special education aid, the ELC analysis shows:

  • Over 76% of all state aid for transportation will be cut, or $144 million from a total of $241 million statewide. Wealthy districts lose 97% of their transportation aid.
  • Nearly 60% of SFRA categorical aid for school security will be cut, or $144 million of the $241 million in total security aid. High needs districts, where security needs are the greatest, will lose $61 million, or 44% of their security aid.
  • 39%, or $292 million, in transition aid, known as adjustment aid, will be cut, mostly in high needs districts. This aid is intended to safeguard against steep cuts as districts gradually reduce budgets to the SFRA formula levels.

The Governor’s FY2011 budget proposal now goes to the NJ Legislature for consideration. The Legislature can, of course, reject the proposal and enact a budget that provides state aid consistent with the levels required by the SFRA formula. ELC is urging those concerned about special education programs and the quality of our public schools to let legislators know that they expect the formula to be followed and funded. To that end, Our Children/Our Schools has launched a campaign to press the Legislature to fully fund the formula in FY2011. For more information about the OC/OS campaign, please visit the organization’swebsite.

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