Schools Could be Underfunded by $1.2 billion in FY14
Governor Christie’s proposed FY14 school aid budget drastically underfunds schools by ignoring the essential provisions of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). According to the Office of Legislative Services’ previously released estimates of full funding under SFRA, the Governor proposes underfunding schools in FY14 by approximately $1.2 billion. [Click here to see the underfunding of SFRA by school district; choose the second tab, “FY14 v. SFRA,” located above the title, “Governor’s Proposed FY14 State Aid.”]
For the second year in a row, and despite the Legislature’s objections, the Governor has modified the SFRA by reducing the formula’s “weights,” or the additional funding for at-risk students and English language learners. In addition, the Governor’s budget uses “average daily attendance” (ADA) to adjust enrollment counts, and “phases in” the year-to-year increases many districts are owed. Nearly all districts (545 out of 580) received less state aid under the Governor’s proposal than they would have if the SFRA were fully funded.
The failure to fund the formula affects districts across the state, but falls particularly hard on the state’s low- and middle-income districts. On average, the highest wealth districts have a funding gap of about $500 per pupil, while the lowest wealth districts’ gap is twice that at $1,000 per pupil. Similarly, districts with more poor and black and Hispanic students are more affected than wealthy districts and districts serving mostly white students.
The continuous underfunding is also leading to an increase, rather than a reduction, in the number of districts spending below “adequacy,” what the SFRA defines as the resources required to provide a “thorough and efficient” education. Due to increasing costs and the failure to provide districts with their state aid increases, the number of below adequacy districts has grown to 278. That’s 42 more districts than last year, and 79 more than in FY10, the year before Christie took office.
Not surprisingly, the below adequacy districts bear the brunt of the underfunding, losing out on a total of $867 million, or an average of $1,000 per pupil. Without the required levels of funding, these districts will be unable to provide the programs and services necessary to provide a quality education, especially for disadvantaged students.
The level of underfunding is staggering in some of the state’s largest districts. Newark is underfunded by over $50 million, while at the same time facing a $56 million budget gap that will result in massive cuts to schools. Paterson is also losing out on $50 million. Elizabeth and North Bergen should each be receiving an additional $32 million in state aid, while Bayonne is entitled to an extra $23 million.
Other smaller, low-wealth and below adequacy districts are receiving thousands of dollars less per student than SFRA requires. The two districts with the largest funding gaps on a per pupil basis are Woodlynne Borough, which should be receiving an additional $4,580 per student, and East Newark, which is shortchanged by $3,978. These two districts have student poverty rates nearing 90%, and have many students learning English or requiring Special Education services.
“The Governor’s unwillingness to follow the State’s school funding formula, for the fourth year in a row, and his unilateral reformulation of the most essential elements of the SFRA are hurting at-risk students all across the state,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The Legislature must continue to stand up for the SFRA so that all districts have the resources necessary to educate all students so they are college and career ready.”
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