Governor Would Decimate Budgets, Trigger Huge Staff Cuts in Poor Districts
August 8, 2016
Governor Chris Christie’s so-called “Fairness” funding plan would cause staggering budget cuts in some of New Jersey’s poorest districts, forcing as many as 14,000 teachers, guidance counselors and other support staff to be cut, an ELC analysis shows.
The Governor proposes to replace the current formula, which provides more funds to at-risk students, English language learners (ELL) and students with disabilities, with a new formula that would give districts a fixed amount of $6,599 per pupil. The proposal simply ignores the vast differences in student need, racial isolation, district local property tax capacity, and New Jersey’s decades-long effort to provide sufficient school funding to students in the state’s poorest communities.
ELC analyzed the impact the Governor’s proposal to distribute the same amount of state aid per pupil on districts across the state, grouped by community wealth. The analysis shows that, under the Governor’s plan, 143 districts would have their budgets cut, with the poorest districts bearing the overwhelming brunt of the aid cuts. These 78 low wealth districts would lose, on average, a staggering $7,417 per pupil, representing 40% of their total operating budgets. Fifty-six middle wealth districts would be cut an average of $1,494 per pupil, or 8% of their operating budgets. In sharp contrast, all 129 high wealth districts – those with low student need – would not be cut but instead would receive a huge influx as state aid is transferred from the poorer districts.
Impact of “Fairness Formula” on Funding Statewide and by District Wealth
Source: NJDOE State Aid Notice, 2015-16
ELC also simulated the potential impact of the Governor’s proposed budget cuts in low and middle wealth districts on staff levels and student-to-staff ratios. We estimate across-the-board cuts by reducing staff positions in proportion to each district’s state aid cut as a percentage of their total operating budget. Wealthy districts, since they are insulated from any aid cuts, would not see any changes in current staffing levels or ratios per student.
In the 143 low and middle income districts whose budgets would be cut, ELC estimates these districts could layoff as many as 15,000 staff to balance their drastically reduced budgets. Low wealth districts could lose upwards of 14,000 staff. The largest seven low wealth districts account for about 47% of the total staff loss. Overall, low wealth districts would lose about 33% of their staff, and middle wealth districts would lose 1%. Of course, high wealth districts would not be affected.
ELC also simulated the potential impact of the Governor’s proposal on student-to-staff ratios. Currently, staff levels are generally similar in all district wealth groups, but the Governor’s plan would increase average pupil to staff ratios in all low wealth districts to about 14.2 students per staff member, while high wealth districts would remain at 9.4. Not surprisingly, the low wealth districts forced to drastically reduce staff would see an even higher ratio at 15.3. Union City could reach a level of 22 students per staff member, while Elizabeth, Irvington and Passaic could reach 19, and East Orange and Trenton 18 – all more than double the ratios seen in high wealth districts.
Estimated Impact of “Fairness Formula” on Staff Statewide and by District Wealth
Source: NJDOE Certificated Staff Files, 2014-15
ELC further examined what impact the Governor’s proposal will have on specific school personnel, from classroom teachers to essential support staff, in the 143 districts whose budgets would be cut (“losers”) compared to districts that would not be cut (“winners”). In the winning districts, the ratio of core classroom teacher to students would remain, on average, at 19:1, but the ratio could climb to 27:1 in the losing districts. For world language teachers, the ratio in winning districts would remain at 301:1, while in the losing districts the ratio could rise to 614:1. Guidance counselor to student ratios would be 367:1 for the winners, but increase to a whopping 548:1 in losing districts.
The current “weighted student formula” – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – requires basic skills/remedial teachers, social workers, and other supplementary staff to address the needs of at-risk students. These staff in districts with the highest levels of at-risk students would be decimated under the Governor’s proposal. “Winning” districts – those gaining state aid – would continue to have an average of one basic skills/remedial teacher for every 165 at-risk students, while the “losing” districts – those facing steep budget cuts – could be left with only one teacher for every 692 at-risk students. Bilingual programs would also suffer tremendously. The winning districts would maintain average ratios of 26 ELL students per bilingual teacher, while the losing low and middle wealth districts could be forced to increase ratios to 46 ELL students per bilingual teacher.
Simulated Student to Staff Ratios under Governor Christie’s “Fairness Formula”
Governor Christie’s funding proposal is the antithesis of “fairness” for public school children. It would remove huge amounts of state aid from the budgets of New Jersey’s poorest districts – those with the highest enrollments of at-risk students, ELL’s and students with disabilities. These budget cuts would, in turn, force massive cuts in staff, cuts that could reach upwards of 15,000 teachers and support staff. The potential impact on classroom instruction and support is nothing short of an educational nightmare for students in high need schools: class sizes would balloon; courses and programs would be eliminated or curtailed; caseloads for counselors, child study teams and social workers would soar; remedial interventions for at-risk students would be nearly non-existent; bilingual programs would be dismantled; and mandated services for students with disabilities would be jeopardized.
The Governor’s proposal is a direct assault on educational opportunity for the thousands of students in our poorest communities. There can be no doubt the Governor’s plan would not only put an end to New Jersey’s historic progress in improving those opportunities, but would roll back that progress and allow the opportunity and achievement gaps of the past to re-emerge.
To view a complete list of districts facing state aid cuts and their estimated staff reductions, click here.
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