After months of uncertainty and only weeks before the start of school, New Jersey school districts have been informed of the amount of state aid they will receive for the upcoming school year. Many districts will receive an increase, which is welcome news after Governor Chris Christie’s original proposal for another year of flat funding. But other districts have had their state aid cut and now have to reduce budgets over the coming weeks.
Governor Christie’s refusal to increase aid for seven years as required by the school funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – has left most districts in worse condition than when he took office. Given enrollment growth and changes in student demographics, the $100 million aid increase in the FY18 State Budget is good news. But the increase is only a fraction of the more than $1 billion that school districts are currently owed under the SFRA.
Education Law Center has analyzed school aid in the final FY18 budget. ELC’s findings are:
- The funding levels of 216 school districts are below “adequacy,” or the amount of aid the SFRA determines that districts require in order to provide a “thorough and efficient” (T&E) education to their students. Under the Governor’s proposed budget, 218 districts would have fallen below adequacy, a difference of just two districts.
- The 216 below adequacy districts are spending an average of $2,800 per pupil below T&E, a slight improvement of $138 per pupil on average over the Governor’s proposed budget.
- Half of the $31 million in state aid cuts comes from 24 below adequacy districts, including $8 million from Jersey City, $2 million from Vineland, and $500,000 from Gloucester City.
- The budget provides $19 million in additional state aid to 204 districts that are already spending above adequacy. This aid increase is spread so thin it will have little impact on school budgets or property tax relief.
- The $25 million increase for preschool expansion breaks the seven-year logjam over Governor Christie’s refusal to fund the SFRA’s required expansion of Abbott Preschool. But hundreds of districts are still waiting to provide high quality early education for three- and four-year-olds.
Next year’s State Budget will be crafted by a new Governor and a newly elected Legislature. This provides an opportunity to renew our state’s commitment to the SFRA and the goal of fair school funding for all districts. ELC recommends:
- Lawmakers must develop and implement a multi-year plan to move all districts to SFRA adequacy within a reasonable timeframe. This means addressing the two revenue sources that support every district’s adequacy budget: state aid and local property tax revenue.
- State aid increases must be directed to under adequacy districts.
- Districts must increase local revenue if they are not meeting their local fair share as determined by the SFRA.
- Lawmakers must consider providing relief for school districts facing municipal overburden. These districts have high tax rates, but low rates of local school funding due to the high costs of other municipal obligations.
- The incoming gubernatorial administration must commit to a serious and in-depth analysis of SFRA formula parameters through the legislatively required, three-year review of the formula known as the Educational Adequacy Report. There have been significant changes to standards and curriculum in New Jersey schools since the SFRA was first implemented, and the formula must be updated to reflect those changes.
“Legislators were successful in putting an end to Governor Christie’s seven-year-long aid drought, which caused serious stress in local district budgets,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “But the aid increase must be seen as only the start of the long road back to fair school funding. We’ll be pressing the incoming administration to work with legislators to implement a coherent and fair plan that brings every district adequate resources under the SFRA.”
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