THE RIGHT WAY TO COMPARE NJ EDUCATION FUNDING -- 2010-11
Newark, NJ -- May 5, 2011
In a school year marked by drastic cuts in state aid, NJ's poorest districts saw the largest decline in per pupil funding. The state's wealthiest districts experienced an average decrease of $211 per student, while the poorest districts lost more than twice that at $572 per student.
To appropriately compare funding across districts, ELC uses a measure called "funding per weighted pupil" or FWP. As recognized in the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), many students come to school with special needs that must be addressed to ensure them an equal educational opportunity. The SFRA provides additional funding for poor (at-risk) students, limited-English proficient (LEP) students, and students with disabilities. These extra funds are calculated as a percentage of the base student cost and called a "weight." The "weighted student enrollment" accounts for the degree to which districts require extra resources to educate students with special needs.
The following charts show funding per weighted pupil for the current school year and compare FWP in the current and previous year. Districts are grouped by wealth, according to their classification as "high needs" under the SFRA, or as former Abbott districts. To calculate funding per weighted pupil, each district's state and local revenues are divided by their weighted enrollment. The charts provide the most important data elements used in calculating a district's FWP: total enrollment, enrollments for at-risk and LEP, weighted enrollment, and state and local funding.
Note: District Wealth categorized as follows: Low = District Factor Groups (DFG) A & B, Middle = DFG CD - GH, and High = DFG I & J. "High Needs" districts have poverty rates over 40% and fail to meet performance benchmarks specified by NJDOE (including Abbott districts).
The 2010-11 state summary shows:
- New Jersey spends, on average, $10,315 per weighted pupil.
- Wealthier, suburban districts -- those in District Factor Groups (DFG) I & J – are the highest spending at $11,433 per weighted student.
- The poorest districts -- those in DFG A & B – spend $9,745 per weighted pupil, below the state average.
- The SFRA High Needs districts spend $9,740 per weighted pupil. A high needs district has a student poverty rate of 40% or more, and is not meeting academic performance benchmarks established by the NJDOE.
- The former Abbott districts spend $9,917 per weighted pupil.
The second table shows changes in funding per weighted pupil from 2009-10 to 2010-11:
- Statewide, funding per weighted pupil declined by an average of $411.
- The decreases were greatest in low-wealth districts, which lost an average of $572, or 6%, per weighted pupil compared to only $211, or 2%, in high wealth districts.
- The largest decreases occurred in former Abbotts, which saw their funding per weighted pupil reduced by $622.
- The 2010-11 state aid cuts eroded New Jersey's school finance equity. The gap between high wealth and low wealth districts grew with high wealth districts outspending low wealth districts by $1,688 in 2010-11, compared to $1,327 in 2009-10.
In this time of heated political rhetoric about education reform, it is more important than ever for the public to have accurate and reliable information about education spending. Lately, politicians have taken to throwing around per pupil spending figures without explaining what they mean. These unqualified numbers often serve to convince the public that education spending in certain districts is out of control and needs to be reduced, though a proper analysis of the data proves otherwise.
This tendency to compare per pupil spending among districts without any concern for varying levels of student need seriously oversimplifies school funding and does a disservice to schoolchildren. The FWP measure gives the public and education stakeholders an accurate and meaningful way to compare districts' spending levels.
With the passage of the SFRA, New Jersey recognized the importance of accounting for specific student need in the distribution of school funding. Unfortunately, the formula has not been followed, and high poverty districts have been hit hardest by aid reductions. It is imperative that New Jersey get back on track and fully fund the SFRA formula.
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