TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — An education advocacy group on Monday urged New Jersey lawmakers to reject Gov. Chris Christie's schools budget for the coming year, claiming that it changes the formula for funding public education without prior legislative approval and in ways that will shortchange districts with the largest percentages of poor and non-English-speaking students.
The Education Law Center claims the governor's budget for K-12 aid as presented to the Legislature is illegal.
The center, a leading public education advocate that has challenged the Christie administration previously, released its latest budget analysis Monday, about two weeks after sending it to leaders of the budget committees in the Senate and Assembly.
"The governor's FY13 school aid proposal should be rejected as an unauthorized and legally improper incursion by the Executive upon the other branches of government, in defiance of clear legislative and judicial mandates," the center's executive director, David Sciarra, wrote to legislative leaders.
Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Vincent Prieto told The Associated Press the analysis is being reviewed. He said Democrats remain concerned that the governor is trying to change the school funding formula adopted in 2008 rather than fully finance it.
Christie claims the schools budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is the largest education aid package in state history, totaling nearly $8.9 billion, a $212.5 million increase over the current year. Democrats say that figure doesn't begin to make up for the $820 million in public school aid Christie slashed from public education in his first budget in 2010. They also say some of the proposed increase won't be seen directly in the classroom.
The Christie administration has proposed changing the calculation for impoverished and non-English-speakers as well as when in the school year student attendance is counted, all of which are likely to decrease the amount of state aid for poor districts. The Education Law Center says it's illegal to make such changes as part of the budget; proposals that alter the school funding formula need separate legislative review as outlined in state law, the center claims.
The Education Department said "it's ridiculous" for the center to suggest that Christie and the Legislature can't make the changes while adopting the budget.
Department spokesman Justin Barra said the proposed changes make the distribution of state aid "fairer, less susceptible to fraud and abuse, and help to ensure that funding more closely follows each student."
The center sued the administration over education funding last year, and Christie was ordered to return hundreds of millions of dollars to the budget for the poorest schools.
It also has challenged the administration more recently over its failure to make repairs to aging city schools in poor physical condition.