On June 30, Governor Phil Murphy signed the Fiscal Year 2020 New Jersey State Budget. Did the appropriation of state school aid in the FY20 Budget improve resources and opportunities for the state’s 1.4 million public school students?

From 2010 to 2018, NJ legislators failed to stop former Governor Chris Christie from imposing deep funding cuts and ignoring aid increases required under New Jersey’s statewide, weighted student funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA). Districts with higher concentrations of low-income students and students of color felt the biggest impact, as the distribution of school funding relative to student poverty – known as “school funding fairness” – suffered across the Garden State.

After nearly consistent progress from the early 1990s to 2009, in 2010 there was a dramatic decline in the progressivity of NJ’s school funding, or the extent to which high poverty districts received higher levels of per pupil funding than low poverty districts. After rebounding somewhat in 2012 (when the NJ Supreme Court ordered funding restored to the Abbott districts), New Jersey’s progressivity has continued to decline in recent years.

Last year, the FY19 State Budget provided a $351 million increase in state aid under the SFRA, the first real funding boost in nine years. This increase reduced the number of districts spending below “adequacy,” or the level necessary to deliver New Jersey’s academic standards, from 185 to 166. Even after the increase, however, almost half of all students, predominately in low wealth, high poverty districts, attended schools funding below the amounts required by New Jersey’s funding formula.

Did the FY20 State Budget continue this slow progress back to fair school funding?

Here’s a recap of state aid appropriations for the coming school year:

  • K-12 School Funding: The FY20 Budget increases K-12 state aid to districts by $191 million, with much, but not all, of the increase allocated to the 166 districts spending below their constitutional level of adequacy under the SFRA funding formula. This increase falls well below the $483 million recommended by Education Law Center to phase in over four years the total amount of aid owed by the State to these districts. 

    The Budget also cut $90 million from 197 school districts, including $40 million from 26 districts spending below adequacy under the formula. Bottom line: New Jersey continues to make progress, albeit much too slowly, towards the goal of ensuring all students have the funding and resources determined by the State as necessary to afford them the opportunity for success in school.

  • Preschool: The FY20 Budget provides $806 million in SFRA preschool education aid. That includes a $68 million increase for preschool programs, with $20 million for expansion of high quality preschool to low-income students across the state, as promised in the SFRA formula, and $5 million for wraparound services in Abbott preschool programs.
  • Special Education: The FY20 Budget also includes an additional $50 million for extraordinary special education aid, which is the State contribution to school districts with any special education student expense over $55,000 a year. The increase raises the State’s share of this cost to $250 million.

  • School Construction: Legislators and the Governor completely ignored the glaring reality that the State school construction program has run out of money for 381 health and safety, capital maintenance and major projects recently identified by the NJ Department of Education for urban districts, as well as for grants for needed facilities improvements in hundreds of “regular operating districts.” This continued inaction sets the stage for intervention by the NJ Supreme Court in the landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation.
  • Lakewood Public Schools: In response to legal concerns raised by Education Law Center, Governor Murphy deleted language in the Budget to re-authorize the private school busing authority for 2019-20. The busing authority, enacted as a three-year pilot program, has now expired, and the responsibility to provide busing for 30,000 private school students reverts back to the Lakewood Public Schools. The Legislature also rejected the Governor’s proposed $30 million in special aid to Lakewood. To prevent the Lakewood budget from fiscal collapse, the State Treasurer has approved a $36 million loan to the district. The Governor and Legislature squandered an opportunity to address the structural deficits in Lakewood generated by the ever-growing cost of State-mandated private school busing.

  • Private School Vouchers: Legislators passed a bill to appropriate $5 million for a program to provide compensation to public school teachers who agree to teach STEM classes at private schools. The Governor has yet to sign or veto the bill. And the Governor and Legislature again failed to begin phasing out $112 million in taxpayer dollars diverted to reimburse private schools for textbooks, security and other expenses and to redirect those dollars to the state’s chronically underfunded public schools.

With the FY20 State Budget, New Jersey continues on a course making slow progress to address years of chronic underfunding of districts spending below adequacy. Even so, the Budget sets back numerous other districts by following through on the state aid cuts enacted in Senate Bill 2 last year.

The budget process demonstrates again the crucial importance of sustained vigilance and advocacy by parents, teachers, and supporters of our strong system of public schools. The fight for school funding fairness is never over. Our elected officials must be held to account for advancing, and not undermining, the right of all public school children to a thorough and efficient education as guaranteed under our state constitution. 


David Sciarra is the Executive Director of Education Law Center and lead counsel for the plaintiff school children in Abbott v. Burke.


Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24


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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240