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NEARLY 200 NEW JERSEY DISTRICTS ARE $2.5 BILLION BELOW CONSTITUTIONAL FUNDING LEVEL

February 17, 2021

The number of New Jersey school districts funded below their constitutional level of “adequacy” rose to 193 in 2020-21, up from 188 last year, a new Education Law Center analysis shows. The students in these districts are owed $2.5 billion according to the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), New Jersey’s weighted student funding formula.

The “adequacy gap” in the 193 districts is the shortfall in state and local revenue needed to fully fund the cost of educating students to achieve New Jersey academic standards, including the additional cost of educating low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. An “adequacy budget” for each district is calculated annually by the Department of Education using the education cost parameters and weighted student enrollments in the SFRA formula. 

The rising adequacy gap also represents a reversal of a commitment made by Governor Phil Murphy and legislative leaders in 2018 in Senate Bill 2 (S2). In S2, lawmakers enacted a cut in hold harmless aid to approximately 200 districts as a quid pro quo for increasing state aid to bring all districts to full SFRA funding in seven years. While modest progress was made in 2019 and 2020, the 2021 State Budget implemented the aid cuts but provided no aid increase to move towards the goal of full funding by 2025.

“The latest data showing more districts falling below adequacy and the rising state aid debt owed to our students demonstrate lawmakers’ repudiation of their promise to reach the constitutional level of funding in all districts by 2025,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “This is especially troubling since the impact of the pandemic on our students and schools requires more, not fewer, resources.”

In the face of legislative backsliding, the statewide advocacy coalition Our Children/Our Schools (OC/OS) has offered Governor Murphy a detailed proposal for a major course correction on school funding in the upcoming FY22 State Budget. The proposal includes the following requests:

  • Increase state aid by $475 million to honor the commitment to fully fund the SFRA formula. This increase represents the first installment necessary to eliminate the current $1.9 billion state aid gap by FY25.
  • Hold all districts harmless from any state aid cut in FY22. The extreme resource needs to address the pandemic mean every district in the state must be shielded from forced budget cuts resulting from losses in state aid.
  • Hold all districts harmless from state aid losses due to shifting and unstable enrollment patterns triggered by COVID-19 school closings. The fall 2021 enrollment counts should be excluded from SFRA state aid calculations for FY22 and all subsequent years.
  • Lift the property tax cap to allow below adequacy districts to increase local revenue above the 2% cap to speed up the timeframe to reach full funding of the SFRA’s required local contribution.
  • Commit to the use of emergency federal COVID-19 relief to supplement state formula funding and not to backfill cuts to schools to balance the State Budget.

“The extraordinary circumstances triggered by COVID-19 require New Jersey lawmakers to double down on their commitment to full funding of the SFRA formula,” said Rosie Grant, Executive Director of the Paterson Education Fund and founding member of OC/OS. “The pandemic has exposed long-standing inequities in our public school system. It’s time to take them on, head on.”

OC/OS and ELC are calling on parents, educators and advocates to step up pressure on the Governor and Legislature to take the necessary steps to provide the resources school districts need to meet the extraordinary demands of the coming school year.

“The many partners in the Our Children/Our Schools network will be working to let lawmakers know that adequate school funding is the No. 1 priority in the pandemic,” said Sharon Krengel, ELC Policy and Outreach Director. “Rest assured. Our voices will be heard loud and clear during the upcoming budget process in Trenton.”

Use ELC’s interactive tools to see more school funding data, including district funding profiles.

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24