The vast majority of NJ school districts have yet to recover from Governor Christie’s $1.1 billion cut in state aid in his FY11 budget. A new analysis by ELC shows that, even with the Governor’s slight aid increase proposed for the FY14 State Budget, 477 districts will remain below the level of state aid they received the year before the Governor took office.
In the 2010-11 school year, Governor Christie cut state aid to districts in an amount equal to 5% of their total operating budgets. Three years later, nearly all districts are struggling with state aid payments far below the amounts required by NJ’s school funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA).
Under Governor Christie, if the proposed FY14 budget stands, the SFRA will have been underfunded by a total of $5.1 billion. The Governor’s disregard for the SFRA formula has impacted districts in all geographic regions and all socioeconomic groups. Some higher wealth districts have experienced deep cuts, effectively wiping out most of their state aid. Many low wealth districts are also in trouble, partly due to the modifications made to the formula – and rejected by the Legislature – in the last two years. These districts also have been hurt by Governor Christie’s reduction in the amount of state aid provided for the education of poor students and English language learners. Finally, the Governor’s use of “average daily attendance,” a widely discredited method for the calculation of student enrollment for the purpose of determining aid levels, has a disproportionate impact on low-income districts.
Around 80 districts are getting less than half the state aid they received in FY10, and another 70 are receiving only three-quarters of their pre-Christie funding. In terms of total dollars lost since FY10, these districts are the biggest losers: Toms River at $4.26 million, Edison at $3.97 million, Washington Township (Gloucester) at $3.83 million, Cherry Hill at $3.78 million, and Atlantic City at $3.55 million.
On a per pupil basis, the biggest losers are Beverly City with $3,000 less per pupil, and Jamesburg, Long Branch and Wildwood each with over $1,000 less per pupil.
To make matters worse, districts are being asked to “do more with less” as they face rising costs and several “unfunded mandates” from Commissioner Christopher Cerf. Districts are now implementing new and costly teacher and principal evaluation programs, but without any additional resources. Commissioner Cerf also has put in place a timeline for districts to implement the new Common Core standards and assessments, again with no new funding.
“Most of our districts have yet to even climb out of the hole caused by Governor Christie’s massive funding cut in FY11, followed by two years of virtually flat funding,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The Governor’s refusal to properly fund public education is causing a continuing reduction in staff, programs and services that are essential for our students to achieve academically.”
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