Would Trigger Additional Funding Cut to High Poverty Schools
In his proposed FY13 State Budget, Governor Chris Christie wants the Legislature to adopt a radical change in the way students are counted for state aid under the NJ school funding formula, the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). Under the proposal, districts would receive aid based on a widely discredited method known as “average daily attendance,” or ADA, instead of the current system based on student enrollment. If the Legislature goes along with the Governor’s proposal, districts and charter schools serving large numbers of poor, or “at-risk,” students would see a significant cut in state school aid, not just in 2012-13, but in school years to come.
The funding cut triggered by using ADA is in addition to the substantial cuts in aid that would result from the Governor’s proposal to dramatically lower the costs or “weights” in the SFRA formula for educating at-risk students, English language learners (ELL), and students who are both poor and ELL.
The Governor’s proposal to use the ADA method of counting students for aid is among a package of major changes to the SFRA formula outlined in a February 23 report issued by Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf. These changes are designed to implement the Governor’s long-term goal of reducing state school aid below the levels set in the SFRA formula as adopted by the Legislature in 2008, and to impose the biggest cuts on districts with high concentrations of at-risk students and students with other special needs.
Under the SFRA law, state school aid to districts and charter schools is calculated based on the number of students enrolled as of October 15 of each year. As described in the Cerf Report, the SFRA enrollment count would be replaced with the ADA method, under which districts and charter schools would only receive funds for the average number of students in attendance, taken at various intervals during the school year. Because no district has 100% attendance, the Cerf Report recommends using 96% attendance as a statewide “threshold” for funding. Those districts and charter schools with ADA rates below the 96% threshold will have their state school aid reduced proportionately.
If the Legislature adopts the Governor’s ADA proposal in the FY13 State Budget, the most severe impact will be felt in districts and charter schools serving low-income communities. It is well documented that schools in poor neighborhoods typically have lower attendance rates than schools in more affluent communities. Further, these differences result from factors largely beyond the school’s control, including inadequate health care, gangs and violence, chronic unemployment and underemployment, lack of access to child care, and family instability. By using ADA, districts and charter schools would have their funding reduced if attendance falls below the 96% threshold, even though the district and schools must budget for staff, programs and services for all enrolled students, whether or not they are in attendance when ADA is taken during the school year.
Based on an analysis by ELC, if ADA is adopted, districts statewide would see their adequacy budgets – the costs determined by the state to provide the necessary services to students – reduced by over $316 million from this change alone. Nearly half of this reduction would fall on the poorest districts, which would experience a cut of nearly $147 million.
On a per pupil basis, a district or charter school with over 75% at-risk (poor) students can expect to see a loss of $607 per pupil, compared to only $86 per pupil in districts with a poverty rate of less than 25%.
Acting Commissioner Cerf recommends ADA as a way to “remedy” the achievement gap for low-income students, but offers no support to show how cutting funding to high poverty districts and charter schools would advance that goal. In fact, the research cited by Mr. Cerf in his Report as demonstrating a link between chronic absenteeism and poor academic performance does not propose cutting funding, but rather recommends strategies that require significant fiscal investment in our high need schools: access to health care, parental engagement and education, and outreach in the form of case management to address social, medical, economic and academic needs. Districts and charter schools faced with aid reductions under ADA will be less likely to be able to provide the very services that students need to keep them in school on a daily basis.
For this reason, ADA is widely discredited, and rarely used in school funding formulas in other states. ADA represents a step backward toward funding inequality. Let’s make sure this proposal is rejected out of hand by the Legislature.
To find out how the proposed ADA method would affect your district, click here.
Policy and Outreach Coordinator
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications