Legislation would help about 40 school districts spending below adequacy to maintain programs in the years ahead
Trenton – The Senate and Assembly today passed legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney to provide cap relief to districts facing Adjustment Aid cuts that are spending below the adequacy level deemed necessary under the state’s school funding law to provide the “thorough and efficient” education guaranteed by the New Jersey Constitution.
Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland) said the legislation, S-4289, would provide about 40 districts with the ability to maintain programs as Adjustment Aid is phased out over the next five years. The bill, which passed the Senate 24-15 and the Assembly 41-26, was cosponsored by Senator Sam Thompson (R-Middlesex/Union) and endorsed by the New Jersey School Boards Association as well as other educational advocacy groups.
“This legislation will provide cap relief to a limited number of school districts facing Adjustment Aid cuts that are spending below adequacy and not providing the Local Fair Share required under the school funding formula,” said Senator Sweeney. “It will give school boards in these districts the ability to make up for past years when they had no incentive to provide their Local Fair Share because they were receiving large Adjustment Aid windfalls.”
The Sweeney legislation will ultimately provide cap relief to about 40 out of the 194 districts that received Adjustment Aid cuts this year and are currently spending below the adequacy level defined in the School Funding Reform Act or would fall below adequacy between this year and the 2024-25 school year when Adjustment Aid will be fully phased out.
Senator Sweeney was the prime sponsor of S-2, the 2018 law that restored fairness to the SFRA by eliminating the growth cap that unfairly limited state aid to districts with rising enrollments, while phasing out the hundreds of millions of dollars in unwarranted Adjustment Aid payments provided to districts with shrinking enrollments for students that were no longer there.
The Sweeney legislation mirrors a provision in S-2 that gave school boards in Abbott districts like Jersey City that were spending below adequacy and facing Adjustment Aid cuts the ability to raise spending above the 2% cap, but only to the level of adequacy. S-2 also required all districts facing Adjustment Aid cuts and spending below adequacy to raise spending by the 2% cap each year.
“Like S-2, the legislation we passed today is designed to ensure that students do not suffer in districts that are taking Adjustment Aid cuts now after receiving more than their fair share of state aid for more than a decade,” said Senator Sweeney. “We used the adequacy standard because that is the level established under the SFRA and upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court as meeting the constitutional requirement for a ‘thorough and efficient’ education.”
The largest districts that would currently qualify for cap relief under S-4289 include Toms River Regional, Old Bridge, Brick, Lakewood, South Brunswick, Hillsborough, Rancocas Valley Regional and Leonia. Freehold Regional and Manalapan-Englishtown Regional are among the largest districts that would qualify in future years.
Old Bridge school officials proposed a cap relief bill in a meeting with Senators Sweeney and Thompson last spring. The legislation also parallels a resolution adopted on November 23rd by the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Delegate Assembly at the urging of the Hillsborough Board of Education.