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COMMISSIONER SECRETLY CHANGES ABBOTT RULES

MAKES SUPPLEMENTAL PROGRAMS DISCRETIONARY

NJ Education Commissioner William Librera has again revised the State's Abbott rules, this time behind closed doors. This also marks the second time in less than a year that the Commissioner has changed the standards for Abbott programs and budgets.

The latest revisions appeared suddenly on May 25th on the Department of Education’s (DOE) website. The Commissioner used "emergency" rule-making power to make the revisions effective immediately, without any advance notice or opportunity for public comment.

The revised rules come just days before the May 28th deadline for the Commissioner to decide budget requests by districts for Abbott supplemental programs and funds for FY05. The Commissioner has been reviewing these requests since March, and he will now judge the requests under the just-adopted revised rules.

In taking this unprecedented action, the Commissioner ignored pleas from ELC, legislators and advocates who complained that any change in the rules after the districts submitted their budgets to the State for review would be unfair and contrary to basic notions of due process.

The latest revisions go far beyond technical issues. The Commissioner has altered the key standards established in the Abbott V (1998) ruling (PDF) for supplemental programs, staff and services. Under Abbott V, certain supplemental programs – e.g., the second half day of kindergarten, school nurses, guidance counselors, reading tutors – are required, while other programs – e.g., school safety, after school – must be provided when districts’ demonstrate need.

Under the latest rules, every reference to "required and/or needed" supplemental programs under Abbott V is eliminated. In its place, the Commissioner gives himself total discretion to decide whether to approve a supplemental program, position or service.

The rule revisions also ignore the Commissioner’s own agreement made in mediation a year ago, and adopted by the Court in the Abbott X Mediation Order (PDF).

Last year, Commissioner Librera asked the Supreme Court to eliminate supplemental programs altogether, arguing that these programs are no longer needed by Abbott students and schools. Faced with opposition, the Commissioner withdrew his request. He also agreed to allow districts to request supplemental programs in their FY05 budgets, as set forth in the "Chart of Supplemental Programs" (PDF) adopted by the Supreme Court in the Abbott X Mediation Order.