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NJ'S ACCLAIMED ABBOTT PRE-K PROGRAM: BEGINNING OF THE END?

NEW FORMULA LIKELY TO CAP BUDGETS, ELIMINATE NEEDS-BASED FUNDING

Newark, NJ – November 14, 2007

The Corzine Administration’s as-yet-to-be unveiled funding formula will likely propose eliminating the needs-based funding process for the nationally acclaimed Abbott preschool program, a process instituted in 2002 to comply with a NJ Supreme Court ruling in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case.

Instead, the Administration is poised to recommend fixed and capped budgets, unrelated to the actual cost increases for teacher and staff salaries, health benefits and other required expenses. If imposed, the caps will cause budget shortfalls, requiring districts and providers to cut staff and services, and quickly result in a reduction in preschool program quality and outcomes.

The Abbott needs-based process, by which each preschool program operated by community providers, Head Start and districts are developed annually based on actual needs and costs, is widely credited for yielding adequate funding levels with an extraordinary degree of transparency and efficiency.

In a preview of the new approach, Education Commissioner Lucille Davy issued a strongly worded directive last month that districts should submit a "presumptive preschool budget" for 2008-09, capped by an increase of only 2.89%, in anticipation of release of the Administration’s funding formula proposal.

In remarks to the NJ Education Association (NJEA) on November 8th, Governor Jon Corzine acknowledged that he has to present his proposed formula to the Supreme Court. The authority to eliminate needs-based Abbott pre-k funding, and impose strict budget caps, can only be granted by the Supreme Court.

In a letter to Dr. Jacqueline Jones,  the State’s Preschool Director, ELC is raising serious concerns about the presumptive preschool budget and the arbitrary 2.89% increase, and is calling on the Department to give districts additional time to submit preschool budgets until these concerns can be addressed. ELC Executive Director David Sciarra notes that the Abbott preschool program "is nationally recognized for its needs-based approach and high quality," and that it would be a "serious setback" for disadvantaged preschool-age children if "the quality of the [Abbott] program is weakened" by the Administration’s efforts "to place a fixed funding limit on the program without regard to need."

The NJEA has already announced its opposition to a formula that would undermine the historic Abbott remedies for children in New Jersey’s poorest public schools and districts. ELC is prepared to work with NJEA and advocates, educators, civil rights organizations and others to make sure the Legislature adopts a formula that improves and strengthens the Abbott remedies, including high quality pre-k, and expands them to other high poverty districts, schools and children in need.

Education Law Center Press Contact:
David G. Sciarra
Executive Director
email: dsciarra@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x16