Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Education Law Center Loses Soul, Mind

The Education Law Center has issued a threat to the State of New Jersey that if the State doesn't completely change the FY2017 budget to fully fund the Abbotts, the ELC will sue the state yet again to force it to do so.

"ELC, on behalf of the Plaintiff school children in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, notified Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy that the NJ Department of Education’s school aid notices for 2016-17 issued to districts on February 20 violate the SFRA and the 2010 and 2011 Abbott Supreme Court rulings by not utilizing the legally proper costs and weights in the formula.

ELC is demanding that the Acting Attorney General take immediate action to have the NJDOE reissue the aid notices using the proper at-risk and LEP weights and increasing preschool aid by the consumer price index, as mandated by the SFRA. ELC is also demanding that the urban districts covered by theAbbott rulings be provided with full state aid under the SFRA in the FY17 State Budget. The Governor has proposed a budget which is hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid below what the formula requires for these districts and their students.

If necessary, and as a last resort, ELC has placed the Acting Attorney General on notice that, if steps are not promptly taken to address Governor Christie’s unconstitutional aid notices and amounts, the Abbott Plaintiff school children will have no alternative but to bring the matter before the NJ Supreme Court."
The threat of another Abbott lawsuit when the state is broke and so many non-Abbotts are disgustingly underaided, is the most unfair and irresponsible thing I have ever seen from the Education Law Center.

Although the ELC didn't give a price tag for fully funding the Abbotts (it never does), John Mooney of NJSpotlight put the cost at $500 million.

lawyers representing children in the 31 Abbott school districts – all urban and low-income [sic], including Newark, Paterson and Jersey City – have pushing the administration to now not only adjust aid amounts statewide, but also fully fund the Abbott districts as required by the court’s ruling.
That would likely amount to close to $500 million more in the state budget, a hefty sum considering that the administration is increasing aid to districts statewide by only $94 million.
The major way that another Abbott lawsuit is unfair is that none of the Abbotts is even close to being among NJ's most underaided districts according to NJ's "landmark" weighted school aid law, SFRA (which the ELC originally opposed but now celebrates.)

The most underaided Abbott district is New Brunswick, whose aid deficit per student is $3,073, with Plainfield and Bridgeton right behind also with deficits greater than $3,000 per student.

New Brunswick has a substantial deficit, but there are 77 districts who are more underaided than New Brunswick, bottoming out with Bound Brook, who is underaided by $9,176 per student.

Click to Enlarge.
Half of the Abbotts are, in fact, overaided.  On one hand, this is a relief since the state would not have to give much in additional aid (if any) to seventeen of the Abbotts, but how can the Education Law Center not present this fact about the Abbotts in its public filings and press releases?

Aid Deficits/Surpluses Per Student

Given New Jersey's zero-sum budgetary reality, the aid of the non-Abbotts would be endangered by an Education Law Center/Abbott triumph since the state would have to get the money from somewhere and taking more money from pensions, like after the Abbott XXI decision in 2011, is impossible and Christie will not allow taxes to be increased. Even if Christie would allow taxes to increase, why should the Abbotts get that money instead of the pension system? whose investments have lost 6% of value through the 12 months preceding Feb 2016? Or the Transportation Trust Fund, which will be depleted in a few months?  And if NJ were to ignore the warnings of pension actuaries and infrastructure advocates and put that extra tax money into education, why give it to the Abbotts when other poor districts are so much more disadvantaged?

How much more disadvantaged?  There is not a single Abbott among NJ's lowest spending districts either (all of whom are underaided). Fairview, who is underaided by over $7,100 per student and only spends $10,143 per student, might lose some of the inadequate aid it does receive if the NJ Supreme Court issued another ukase for the state to find hundreds of millions more for the Abbotts.

The underaided non-Abbotts who are so budgetarily desperate, such as Freehold Boro, Manchester Regional, Woodlynne, Bound Brook, Belleville, and Guttenberg, would get nothing from another Abbott lawsuit since their students don't "have legal standing" in the morally and economically disinterested, legalistic reasoning of the NJ Supreme Court.

The lowest spending Abbott, Bridgeton (who I feel should get more money), still spends $15,961, an amount far, far above what nearly all working class and poor non-Abbotts are able to spend.

Do the Abbotts need more money?  Sometimes yes.  But the Abbotts can start by raising their own taxes.  Of the 31 Abbotts, only three tax at or above their Local Fair Share.

The increasing inequity of the Abbott lawsuit comes from the obsolescence of the Abbott list.

The 31 Abbott districts are not the 31 poorest districts in New Jersey.  Not by a long shot.
  1. Tax Base:

Although most of the Abbotts clearly have low tax bases, Harrison, Hoboken, Jersey City, Long Branch, and Neptune Township are not even close to being among the poorest tax-base districts in NJ.  Hoboken, in fact, is NJ's richest K-12 district by far.

2.  Demographics

Click to Enlarge
Demographically, there are other Abbotts who are not among NJ's poorest.  Pemberton's FRL-eligibility is 44%.  Hoboken's is 49%.  Neptune Township and Phillipsburg are 52% and 53% FRL-eligible, respectively.

The Education Law Center willfully blind when it comes to New Jersey's fiscal situation.  For all their knowledge of school finance, they are ignorant of trifling things like the collapse of Atlantic City's gambling industry, the Pension Crisis, the retiree exodus, continuing net job losses, the depletion of the Transportation Trust Fund, or the massive threat of an adverse verdict on COLAs in Berg v. Christie.

In short, the Education Law Center has become a reactionary law firm determined to protect the interests of its clients over the greater good and willing to mislead the public about the nature of NJ's finance problems and the facts of Abbott underaiding.


See Also:

If the Abbott List Were Updated, Who would be on it? off it?

The Non-Results of Abbott Funding

No comments:

Post a Comment