TRENTON – A prominent education advocate called on the Legislature to focus on bringing universal preschool to every 3- and 4-year old in the state’s high-needs areas, and help school districts interested in expanding from their current half-day kindergarten to full-day.
David Sciarra of the Education Law Center said that even though the Legislature passed the School Funding Reform Act in 2008, which helped address funding shortfalls in school districts that are neither affluent nor poverty-stricken, there is still a $1 billion shortfall for all schools.
Speaking before the Joint Committee on Public Schools Tuesday, he blasted the Christie Administration for attempting to change the funding formula without legislative amendment.
The state Supreme Court has ruled that a three-year review process needs to be implemented in order to get a thorough analysis.
Sciarra praised the Legislature for supporting SCR134, which objects to recommendations made by the administration to decrease the additional weights for students who are at-risk (defined as students who are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program), bilingual education students, and combination students (defined as those who are both at-risk and bilingual education students).
According to the resolution, the Legislature objects to the recommendations because “they are not based on any research of the school funding level necessary to achieve the State’s standards, as required under the school funding law or as expected by the Supreme Court in its decision.”
“It would be improper to calculate state aid (based on those recommendations),” Sciarra said.
He described the recommendations contained in the report as arbitrary.
He recommended that the Legislature “put some funding toward restarting the phase-in of preschool in high-needs districts” to improve performance of at-risk students.
Sciarra urged the lawmakers to reach out to their congressional delegation to help make that a reality.
With regards to the difficulty for half-day kindergarten programs expanding to full-day, Sciarra believes much of the difficulty stems from lack of space and facilities.
He called on the state to help school districts deal with that.
“I would love to see SDA start prioritizing,” he said in reference to the Schools Development Authority. “We have to tackle that.”