Commissioner Lamont Repollet testified before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Tuesday about the proposed FY 2020 state budget for the New Jersey Department of Education. Committee members asked questions about aid to school districts, student assessments, and special education funding.

Budget Committee Chairman Senator Paul Sarlo asked about the impact of Adjustment Aid reductions. In response, Commissioner Repollet said that the Department of Education had been meeting with individual districts and county superintendents to review district reserves, surplus amounts and performance measures to determine individual districts’ relative fiscal health as a precursor to considering one-time emergency aid.

Dr. Repollet explained that multiple factors determined the aid reductions, which affect approximately one-third of the state’s school districts. These include enrollment declines and changes in income or property wealth.

The proposed budget also reflects legislation enacted last year that would increase funding to approximately two-thirds of the state’s school districts to their full state aid entitlements over the next six years.

Education Committee Chair Senator Teresa Ruiz expressed concern about funds allocated for student assessments when, she said, there has not yet been a resolution of the state’s direction on the issue. The commissioner indicated that the Department of Education’s commitment to assessment exceeds $30 million. Senator Ruiz said that, inevitably, legislation would be required to guide the state toward the next level of assessments.

Several senators addressed the underfunding of special education, specifically the costs of extraordinary placements. The department has said extraordinary costs are funded at just above 50% of actual costs, with the balance falling on local districts.

Chairman Sarlo concluded the hearing by saying he believed that the formula under the School Funding Reform Act works but that fiscal distress in certain districts would have to be addressed.