Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Tide is Turning: Even Education Law Center Accepts Cuts to Adjustment Aid

For years, the Education Law Center has opposed any cuts to Adjustment Aid and insisted that any relief for underaided districts must come from increases in overall spending on K-12 aid.

In October 2015 the Education Law Center published a lengthy defense of Adjustment Aid called "The Facts on Hold Harmless Aid" that attempted to make Adjustment Aid look far more progressive than it is.

The introduction to this report began with a frequent ELC call to fully-fund SFRA without cutting any district's Adjustment Aid: 
“The goal of this policy brief is to clear up common misconceptions about hold harmless aid in the SFRA formula. Much of this aid is used to support the adequacy budgets of districts that are unable to, or restricted from, raising those funds themselves,” said Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director and policy brief co-author. “It’s time to focus on the key task at hand – getting back on track to full funding of the SFRA to make sure all students receive the resources they need and a meaningful opportunity to succeed in school.”
Over the next year, the Education Law Center repeatedly reiterated its opposition to cutting Adjustment Aid for any district.
The ELC couldn't even use the term "over adequacy" without quotes, like it is not a real concept.

The ELC named Jersey City (!!!) specifically as a district it didn't want to see lose aid.

What the ELC ignored is that JC and many more under-Adequecy Adjustment Aid districts,  insufficient local taxes are the reason they are below Adequacy, and sustaining their Adjustment Aid is rewarding them for their refusal to tax themselves.  

And in February 2017 the Education Law Center mocked Kingsway Regional's new lawsuit to have Adjustment Aid declared unconstitutional, saying Kingsway Regional was "barking up the wrong tree."  After the NJ Supreme Court dismissed Kingsway's suit, the Education Law Center celebrated on Twitter.

Something has changed...

Perhaps Steve Sweeney's fight for aid fairness and the grassroots demands for justice have persuaded the ELC that Adjustment Aid is unjust and not defensible any longer, because now the ELC is accepting losses of Adjustment Aid from any district, as long as all below-Adequacy districts are required to make up for the lost state aid with local taxation.

From March 2017:

There is no mystery why districts are spending below T&E: they have gaps in state aid or local revenue or some combination of both. It’s important to recognize that about two-thirds of adjustment aid goes to districts that are spending below T&E because of shortfalls in local revenue. Therefore, if adjustment aid is simply reduced in these districts, children may be harmed if the aid reduction is not replaced with a commensurate increase in local revenue. 
Any formula modifications should address the three causes of spending below the T&E level: 1) increasing aid in districts with a “state aid gap;” 2) increasing local revenue in districts with a “local revenue gap;” and 3) increasing both in districts where the gap is a combination of the two. If Adjustment Aid is to be reduced in any of these districts, it must be coupled with a State mandate that local revenue be increased by, at a
minimum, the amount needed to replace the adjustment aid reduction. 
And just to be clear: the State has to require local revenue increases from year to year in districts below T&E with local revenue gaps. The decision to increase revenue to shrink that gap cannot be left to the discretion of local elected officials or to a “waiver” process before the Commissioner of Education.

The ELC even made this unprecedented statement recognizing that New Jersey has fiscal limits.
We understand the constraints on the State Budget and the many competing priorities facing the state. But quite frankly, an eighth straight year of diminished resources essential for children to learn and thrive is unthinkable. ELC stands ready to work with you to enact a fair and equitable budget for all students. 
I think what aid-losing districts do with their taxes is their democratic discretion, but whatever, any acceptance of cuts to Adjustment Aid from the Education Law Center is welcome and surprising news.

This also might signal a shift in the NJEA's position, since ELC stances can be interpreted as NJEA stances due to the NJEA's large financial support for the Education Law Center and its having two representatives on the ELC's board.

We have a long way to go, but the tide is turning!

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