Districts Face Another Year Of Staff And Program Cuts
In his FY15 State Budget, Governor Chris Christie proposes an almost infinitesimal increase in aid for New Jersey school districts, marking the fifth straight year without any real increase under the state school funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA).
Adding insult to injury, the Governor is proposing to completely abandon the SFRA formula, refusing even to calculate the level of funding adequacy in district budgets. This means that if the Governor’s proposal stands, educators, lawmakers, parents and taxpayers will be left in the dark about the extent to which their districts lack the essential resources needed to educate children to State academic standards.
Bottom line: the Governor proposes a paltry increase of $36.8 million for New Jersey’s 1.3 million public school students. This increase is so small that it won’t prevent another year of cuts to teachers, support staff, programs and services, particularly in high poverty school districts across the state.
The Governor’s proposal includes:
- no increase in all K-12 SFRA aid categories, including Equalization Aid, Transportation Aid, Special Education Aid, and Security Aid;
- a new generic category called “Per Pupil Growth Aid” distributed at a rate of $10 per student for every district for a total of $13.5 million; this aid is distributed irrespective of a district’s current level of funding in relation to its SFRA Adequacy Budget or the needs of the district’s students;
- a meager $10 per pupil in a new categorical aid to help districts prepare for the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC); many districts need to make significant investments in network upgrades and new computers to administer these online tests, as documented in the NJ Department of Education’s surveys of district PARCC readiness. Ten dollars per student, distributed without regard to existing technology deficiencies, is clearly inadequate;
- $4.8 million in additional funding for the 128 districts in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. Participating districts that experience declining enrollment of choice students are receiving $1.8 million in “Adjustment Aid” to prevent a loss in funding;
- $5 million in additional Preschool Education Aid to maintain existing programs, but no money to expand preschool as required under the SFRA. The per-pupil aid amounts are also unchanged from 2013-14, despite a requirement in the SFRA to adjust funding levels for inflation;
- $5 million for an Innovation Fund to be distributed through competitive grants to districts to pilot extended learning time programs.
Governor Christie’s abysmal track record on investing in public education is well documented, beginning with a massive $1.1 billion cut in 2010-11. That was followed by the Governor’s undermining of New Jersey’s progressive school funding formula when he instituted a “modified” version that reduced aid to high-need districts. In addition, the Governor has never provided schools with any of the funding increases they are entitled to under the SFRA, except when he complied with a 2011 order of the NJ Supreme Court to restore a $500 million aid cut to the state’s poorest districts.
As of 2013-14, the formula was underfunded by over $5 billion dollars, and the proposed budget for the coming school year puts districts further behind. In fact, the state aid levels proposed for 2014-15 are below 2009-10 levels for 80% of districts. With new mandates, such as the Common Core PARCC tests and the new teacher evaluation system, now staking a claim to district resources, schools will be even more hard-pressed to meet the needs of their students, especially those in need of additional educational supports.
“Four years of both cuts and flat funding under Governor Christie are taking their toll on our schools and students,” said David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director. “If the FY15 budget is adopted, our schools will be forced to make another round of cuts in essential staff, programs, and services, and thousands of at-risk youngsters across the state will be unable to attend high quality preschool. We call on the Legislature to add a significant increase in K-12 aid and aid for preschool expansion in the final budget.”
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications