By Danielle Farrie
In mid-July, nearly three months late, New Jersey school districts received final notice of their 2018-19 state aid amounts under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the State’s weighted student funding formula. The aid amounts reflect a compromise in the FY19 State Budget among Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.
Education Law Center analyzed the state aid allocations for the current school year against the core touchstone of the SFRA formula: the level of spending required for each district to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to all students. This spending level is captured in district “adequacy budgets,” a calculation based on the cost of educating all students in the district to achieve state standards, along with the additional cost (or “weights”) of educating low-income (at-risk) students, limited English language learners, and students with disabilities.
In 2009, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the SFRA formula can deliver a constitutional education. But the Court emphasized that it is the State’s obligation to “fully fund” the SFRA. When viewed on the basis of these basic principles, the state aid provided in the FY19 State Budget is a mixed bag.
ELC’s key findings are as follows:
- 172 districts spending below adequacy received a $323 million increase in state aid, and some of the district increases were substantial. These aid increases begin to make up for the sizable shortfall created by eight years of aid cuts and flat funding under former Governor Chris Christie;
19 districts spending below adequacy were hit with a $9 million cut in state aid, moving these districts further from their adequacy budget level;
- 219 districts spending above their adequacy budgets received $50 million in aid increases;
- 153 districts spending above adequacy experienced an aid cut of $23 million. Most of the aid cuts were small, but some of the impacted districts were spending at or just above their adequacy level.
For a district-by-district breakdown of FY19 state aid changes, click here.
ELC opposed cuts to state aid in districts spending below adequacy or at or slightly above their adequacy budgets. Reducing state aid in these districts directly conflicts with the purpose of the SFRA formula.
The Governor and the Legislature made progress in 2018-19, by increasing aid to districts spending below their adequacy budgets. But lawmakers also backtracked by cutting aid to districts already lacking the resources necessary to give students a meaningful opportunity to achieve State academic standards.
Though legislative changes were made to the SFRA during budget negotiations in June, school aid in the FY20 State Budget is not determined. It is crucial that the Governor and Legislature continue to increase aid through the formula to ensure that below adequacy districts continue to move towards adequacy and districts at or near adequacy do not fall below.
Danielle Farrie is the Research Director at Education Law Center
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