New Jersey consistently ranks as having among the nation’s fairest systems of public school funding. However, the latest results in Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card show an alarming slippage on this key indicator of State education performance.
The National Report Card (NRC) examines the condition of the 50 state school finance systems on four key “fairness” measures: funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and public school coverage. A fair funding system is one that provides a sufficient level of funding distributed to account for the additional needs generated by student poverty, an essential foundation for ensuring all children the opportunity for educational success.
The 3rd Edition of the NRC analyzes data from 2007 through 2011.
In the first and second editions of the NRC, New Jersey received high marks in all four areas. But the results from 2010 and 2011 show a significant decline in the all-important measure of funding distribution relative to student poverty.
From 2007 through 2009, school funding in the Garden State was the second most fair, or “progressive,” in the nation. High poverty districts were funded at levels approximately 40% greater than low poverty districts. In 2010, the level dropped to 25%, and by 2011, it fell even further to 7%, driving New Jersey from 2nd to 12th place nationally. Overall funding levels also declined, with average per pupil funding in 2011 more than $1,300 below the 2007 average.
“These results should serve as a wake-up call to everyone concerned about public education in New Jersey,” said David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director. “We’re losing our edge on school funding fairness, one of the main reasons why we academically out-perform most other states and nations. It is imperative that the upcoming State Budget put us back on the path to fairness.”
While the data from the 3rd edition of the NRC covers the timeframe when all states struggled under the effects of the Great Recession, no state had a decline in fairness as dramatic as New Jersey’s.
In 2010, New Jersey, like other states, used temporary federal stimulus funds to prevent drastic cuts to the education budget, but still withheld aid increases to many districts under the State’s funding formula, the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA). The SFRA formula is “weighted” to provide more funding to at-risk students, students in high poverty schools, and English language learners.
That same year, Governor Chris Christie made mid-year cuts that disproportionately affected low-income districts. In 2011, Governor Christie again cut school aid by a whopping $1.2 billion. This cut is responsible for New Jersey’s steep drop in funding fairness.
Fairness should improve in 2012 as a result of the NJ Supreme Court’s order in the landmark Abbott v. Burke lawsuit. The Court directed Governor Christie to restore $500 million to the state’s former Abbott districts. However, other poor districts did not have their funding restored, and the Governor’s last two budgets – 2012 and 2013 – failed to fund the increases required by the SFRA formula.
Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC); and Danielle Farrie, Research Director for ELC. Please visit the website to download the report and to explore the findings with interactive data tools.
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