Reprinted from Dollars & Sense Advocacy email 4/16/10.
The Office of Legislative Services recently released their analysis of the proposed budget. It didn't offer a positive assessment regarding the impact on public education.
"The proposed FY 2011 budget reduces direct aid to schools districts by $1.09 billion. The Executive Branch has suggested that school districts can cope with the recommended decrease in aid by entering agreements with personnel to forego scheduled salary increases and contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries to the cost of health insurance premiums."
The paragraph concludes saying, "In summary, it is estimated that if all school districts took these actions, they would still have to address a budget shortfall of at least $849.3 million (77.9% of the proposed aid reduction)."
It also said, "The proposed State aid calculation departs significantly from the funding provisions of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) of 2008." We remember very well what the State Supreme Court's opinion said. Our organization took great exception to the SFRA, but at least it was an attempt to deliver funding for every child. Proposed language changes alter the viability of the formula. For all of that work and all of those efforts to be cast aside is unacceptable. It is clearly an invitation for the litigation we can expect in the near future.
Looking ahead, the cost to recover from the proposed budget cuts is much too high. Some of the proposed cuts carry an after the fact cost that increases exponentially. The recent report of AHSA (the current alternate high school exit exam) scores illustrates the point. Of the 10,000 students who took the alternate assessment, the passing rates were only 10% in language arts and 34% in mathematics. Approximately 7000 students are going to need remedial help if they are to graduate. These students' needs aren't going to disappear. Seriously reducing programs, like summer school, will lead to an increase in our high school dropout rate. It's bad business and we can't afford it.
Monday, April 19th, Dollar$ & Sense Education Advocacy will testify before the Assembly Budget Committee. Among the points we hope to make are the following:
1) The issues at hand aren't about the Governor or the NJEA. Nobody, on either side of any issue, responds well to a bully. A governor bully and a union bully both do a disservice to those they serve. The point is, good ideas and necessary reforms are often lost when poorly presented.
2) At a recent forum, Senator Gordon said. "We can't solve 15 to 20 years of problems with one budget." This simple truth must be clear to everybody.
3) The issues we face aren't strictly fiscal. We have to realize that social, educational, and fiscal perspectives must all be considered together. The proposed approach looks only to fiscal, and only the upfront costs at that. The cost to recover from certain cuts is well beyond the value in savings. That is where the proposed budget fails. "Penny wise and pound foolish" is shortsighted, socially deficient, educationally devastating, and fiscally irresponsible.
4) Chopping and slashing provides short-term relief and long term regret. The education of our children and those in need of social services or medical care are still going to need remediation or health care tomorrow. We know from vast experience that problems left for tomorrow cost more than addressing them today. If we can't do it all, we still must do the very best we can.
5) We don't fund schools efficiently. We don't distribute aid equitably. We don't tax citizens or businesses fairly and this continually is to our regret. If we can be told that everything is on the table, then all possible solutions must be on the table as well. Possible solutions are available that address the true core of our problems.
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