Aid cuts to certain districts and charter schools in New Jersey’s 2022 budget violate the maintenance of equity provision in the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Ian Rosenblum, deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education with the U.S. Department of Education, writes in a Nov. 24 letter to Dr. Angelica Allen McMillan, acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, that New Jersey had assured that it would meet the requirements in section 2004(b) of the American Rescue Plan for its high-need and highest-poverty local education agencies in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. He references a 2018 law (known colloquially as S-2) that reduced adjustment aid to some districts with the intent that those districts would gradually increase their local share of funding for education.

In his letter, he writes that the USDOE understands that New Jersey is phasing-in reductions in adjustment aid over several years, which impacts a number of school districts that meet the definition of high-need and/or highest-poverty LEAs.

But based on conversations with NJDOE staff, “New Jersey’s challenge in maintaining equity is beyond technical limitations with compliance,” he writes. “We understand that the New Jersey State legislature provided authority for the State to provide additional funding to high-need and highest-poverty LEAs in order to meet the requirements under section 2004(b) of the ARP Act. Specifically, we note that the Appropriations Handbook for the State’s FY 2021-2022 enacted budget states that: ‘In addition to the amounts hereinabove appropriated, there are appropriated such additional amounts, subject to the approval of the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting, as are determined to be required to satisfy federal maintenance-of-effort and maintenance-of-equity requirements pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.”

Rosenblum goes on to state that New Jersey must ensure that its highest-poverty local educational agencies receive at least the same amount of funding in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 as provided in fiscal year 2019 and do not have a disproportionate per pupil reduction in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 compared to the overall state reduction for those years. “The Department would expect that a State could remedy any under-allocation to a highest poverty LEA by allocating an additional amount of funding that would satisfy both maintenance of equity requirements in section 2004(b)(1) and (2) of the ARP Act. In other words, we expect that ‘two separate pools of funding’ would not be necessary as long as all maintenance of equity requirements are met by a single pool.”

In a Nov. 30 news release, the Education Law Center, which teamed up with Jersey City Together to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education about New Jersey’s aid cuts, hailed what it called “a directive” from the federal government.

David Sciarra, ELC executive director, said he expects Gov. Phil Murphy and the legislature “to immediately rescind the cuts and provide the funding owed to more than 80 districts.”

At stake is almost $173 million spread out among the districts and charter schools, with Jersey City having the largest funding shortfall of more than $126 million, according to a preliminary estimate from the Education Law Center. View a complete list of estimated gaps by school/district.

View a list of frequently asked questions and answers about American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Program maintenance of equity requirements.

At publication time, it was not clear whether the state would appeal the decision by the USDOE.