New Jersey’s weighted student funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – is the most fair and equitable in the nation. NJ has a problem with school funding, but it isn’t with the formula.
The problem is Governor Chris Christie’s staunch refusal to fund the SFRA since he took office in 2010.
And here’s the solution: lawmakers must get the SFRA back on track through a multi-year phase-in of state aid through the formula beginning with the upcoming FY18 State Budget.
Education Law Center (ELC) delivered this message to lawmakers at two separate legislative committee hearings focused on the SFRA and public school funding.
In testimony before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools and the Assembly Education Committee, ELC reminded legislators:
- The SFRA was rigorously and painstakingly developed based on research, best practices and the professional judgment of NJ educators about the actual cost of the resources needed to deliver state academic standards to all students. This includes the cost of additional resources for students in poverty and English language learners, expressed as a “weight” based on the base or foundational cost.
- The SFRA is the only formula enacted in the last 50 years to be upheld by the NJ Supreme Court as providing the funding necessary for a thorough and efficient education, especially for poor and at-risk students across all districts.
- Governor Christie has been unwilling to fund the SFRA for seven straight years, even at reduced levels, and he cut $1.1 billion from the formula in 2011. More districts are now under their “adequacy budgets” – the level of spending required by the SFRA based on the district’s unique weighted student enrollment – and the adequacy gap in districts has grown. As a consequence, districts have been forced to cut essential teachers, support staff and programs to balance year-to-year flat budgets.
- More alarming, the Governor has spent the last six months pitching his so-called “fairness formula,” which would take massive amounts of state school aid from poorer schools to provide property tax relief to more affluent communities. The Governor’s radical plan would turn the clock back 50 years to when a child’s educational opportunity was determined by family income and the wealth of his or her community.
ELC is calling on lawmakers of both parties to stay focused on putting all districts on a path to funding adequacy through SFRA implementation. ELC proposes three simple steps:
- Beginning with the FY18 State Budget, implement a multi-year phase-in of new state aid through the SFRA formula, targeting the aid to districts that are most under adequacy and/or experiencing significant increases in student population.
- Gradually phase out hold harmless aid to districts that are over their SFRA adequacy budgets and to charter schools. Charter schools should also be required to adhere to the same 2% cap on excess fund balance as districts.
- Raise the 2% cap on increases in local property taxes for school budgets in districts under their adequacy budgets and where there is a sizeable gap between their local revenue level (local levy) and the local fair share under the SFRA.
“ELC has stood at the forefront of the fight to secure education equity and fair school funding in NJ for over 40 years,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “We are ready to work with lawmakers to ensure a return to full implementation of the SFRA so the Garden State can retain its place as a national leader on high quality education and excellent outcomes for our 1.2 million public school children.”
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