According to the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services (OLS), Governor Chris Christie is asking the Legislature to hold charter schools harmless from the negative impact of his proposal to flat fund public education in FY16. This budgetary maneuver, if approved, will mean 83 school districts must send an extra $37.5 million to charter schools across the state.
Under the Governor’s proposal, charter schools would be funded at the 2016 or 2014 per pupil level, whichever is highest, plus enrollment growth over 2015. This change guarantees charters at least as much per-pupil funding as they had two years ago plus enrollment growth, even though district budgets are frozen at last year’s level with no increase to cover higher costs, new mandates or more students.
In nine districts, this change results in a loss of over $500,000 from their budgets. The Newark district must pay out a staggering $25 million more to hold charters harmless, or 66.5% of the statewide total. The proposed extra funding to Newark’s charters is a major factor in the $40 million shortfall in the operating budgets of the 56 district-operated schools.
The analysis of the Governor’s proposal was performed by OLS in its April 2015 review of the NJ Department of Education’s spending plan in the Administration’s recommended FY16 State Budget. [See section beginning on page 23 of the OLS Analysis of the New Jersey Budget: Department of Education.]
Under the Charter School Program Act (Act), districts must transfer funding to charter schools in an amount equal to 90% of the sum of the district’s prior year local revenue and projected year state aid, divided by the district’s weighted enrollment to account for the additional costs of educating at-risk students and English language learners (ELL). The Governor is projecting no increase in state aid for districts, even for increasing enrollments. Many districts will have less funding on a per pupil basis than in prior years, resulting in less per pupil funding for charters if calculated under the Act’s formula.
To hold charters harmless from the impact of flat state aid, the Governor wants the Legislature to change the Act’s formula for calculating district payments from projected year state aid to either the projected year or the 2014 aid level, whichever provides the higher per pupil amount.
District budgets are reeling under the Governor’s staunch opposition to any aid increase in 2015-16, the seventh straight year of flat or reduced funding under the School Funding Reform Act, New Jersey’s weighted funding formula. Those high poverty districts most impacted by holding charters harmless – Newark, Trenton, Paterson, Camden and others – are all bracing for another round of deep cuts in teachers, support staff and other essential resources in schools operated by the districts.
“The Governor’s charter hold harmless is a double whammy for students in district-run schools, especially those in Newark,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The Governor provides no funding increase to support the education of district students, but then instructs districts to transfer more of their limited funds to charters to make sure they don’t suffer the same cuts districts are now implementing in their schools.”
“It is patently unfair to protect charter school budgets while hurting students in district schools,” he added. “The solution is for the Legislature to reject the Governor’s hold harmless proposal and instead increase state school aid for all students in 2015-16. Legislators must meet the needs of students in all public schools, whether operated by districts or chartered by the State.”
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