MORRIS COUNTY — “School districts shouldn’t have to choose between funding special education programs or providing services to other students,” Pennacchio said. “With extraordinary special education costing enormous amount of dollars, we must ensure every child has an equal educational opportunity without negatively impacting a school’s budget. My proposal would make certain that our most vulnerable students, regardless of their zip code, are provided with the resources they need to succeed.”
Pennacchio’s bipartisan legislation, S-3758, would shift special education costs away from school districts and to the State.
If a school district anticipates that the cost of providing special education and related services included in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) will exceed $55,000, that student would be considered to require a high needs placement. A school district would forward the IEP to the newly created Office of High Needs Placement Funding within the Department of Education. That office would be responsible for entering into contracts with, and making payments to, providers of the special education and related services for these students.
The bill establishes a High Needs Placement Committee in the Office of High Needs Placement Funding. The committee members will include the commissioner and State Treasurer, or their designees, and 15 public members.
Under current law, extraordinary special education costs aid is awarded to school districts as a reimbursement of costs incurred in the prior school year in educating individual special education students whose costs exceed certain thresholds. Unfortunately, the State has not been reliable in fulfilling this important responsibility, and the program is only 65% funded in the current fiscal year. This bill eliminates this category of State aid, instead making the State responsible for 100% of these extraordinary special education costs and making it impossible to shirk their responsibility.
According to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, more than half of a New Jersey homeowner’s property tax bill supports their local school districts. Senator Pennacchio believes that this legislation will provide providing significant relief to property taxpayers.
“The property tax crisis that many rural and suburban homeowners face is the result of a flawed school aid formula that provides little state aid to many of those school districts,” Pennacchio added. “Enacting this reform will lower property taxes, improve the quality of education, and protect New Jersey’s special education children. It truly begins the process of funding all of our children the same regardless of their zip code.”
This legislation is also part of a comprehensive and bipartisan “Path to Progress” bill package aimed at implementing essential fiscal reforms that will help to hold the line on spending and taxes. This Legislature took a first step in in this year’s budget by appropriating an additional $55 million dollars to reimburse a greater portion of the extraordinary special education costs incurred by school districts.
“I want to thank Senate President Sweeney for his commitment to help our most vulnerable students,” Pennacchio added. “I look forward to this bill passing the Legislature and becoming law this fall, and towards that, I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues, the Assembly, the Murphy Administration, and special education advocates to ensure that this bill is done right – truly protecting our most vulnerable children.”