NJ Spotlight features today an analysis of Ed. Comm. Cerf’s new proposal, contained in the state’s Education Adequacy Report, of the amounts that the State wants to kick in for special education costs during school year 2013-2014.. While the basic dollar amount would go up by $400 per kid, the proposal raises the threshold at which local districts receive extra state aid to cover the costs of special needs kids with severe disabilities.
This aid, listed in every district’s budget, is referred to as “extraordinary aid,” and is intended to cushion the costs of supplying mandated special education services that may cost as much as (in rare cases, more than) $100,000 per year.
In the past, the state has kicked in aid when educational costs for a child educated within his or her local school district exceeds $40K per year. Comm. Cerf proposes to raise this to $45K. For kids in out-of-district placements – private or county special education schools – the threshold would be bumped from $55K to $60K per year.
But the Education Adequacy Report from Cerf that includes these changes has drawn a quick rebuke from various quarters. Some legislative committees last week said that it is one of several provisions in the proposal that must be revised. And special ed advocates this week contended that it only adds more problems to a flawed and underfunded program.
“There really isn’t good data to support what they are trying to do,” said Brenda Considine, a leader of the state coalition of special education advocacy groups. “Absent any good data, it looks like they are just trying to back into a budget number and reduce the number of districts that would qualify.”
The article links to a spreadsheet that lists the extraordinary aid allotted to each district for school years 2009-2010, 2010-2011, and 2011-2012. The numbers are largely proportional to district size, although there are a few outliers. In Ocean County, for example, Ocean Gate Boro, a tiny district with a total enrollment of 149 kids, received $1,215 in extraordinary aid for 2011-2012. Toms River, with an enrollment of about 14,500 kids, received $ 679,102. But Lakewood Public Schools received $3,668,596. While Lakewood’s total enrollment is about 4,600 kids, the district supplies special education services for many children who are enrolled elsewhere – mainly in Jewish day schools – but are still eligible for special education services.
Lakewood also relies on out-of-district placements far more than other districts. For example, Toms River, with a much higher enrollment, has 66 children placed in private out-of-district placements. Lakewood sends 178 kids out to private schools, which tend to have higher tuition and, thus, qualify for more extraordinary aid.