New Jersey remains near the top of the nation on school funding fairness in the National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair? (NRC). But Pre-K to 12 school funding continues to erode from Governor Chris Christie’s staunch refusal to increase aid to districts as required by the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the Garden State’s path-breaking, weighted student formula.
Education Law Center released the sixth edition of the NRC on fair school funding on January 25. The Report Card analyzes 2014 census data, the most recent available.
New Jersey remains one of only a handful of states with fair school funding. The overall funding level of $17,044 per pupil is among the highest, ranked second behind New York. New Jersey is also “progressive,” with 24% more funding in districts with the highest need, as measured by student poverty.
But the NRC raises red flags. New Jersey’s progressivity – the funding boost to high poverty districts –has slipped steadily from a high of 42% in 2009, to 24% in 2014, or an almost 20% drop in five years. And while still among the national leaders on “effort,” the percentage of the state’s economic output invested in public education has fallen since 2009.
Unlike most states, New Jersey has a model school funding formula, the School Funding Reform Act. The SFRA is a progressive formula that targets additional funding to students most in need – poor (at-risk) students and English language learners – regardless of where they attend school.
The SFRA remains in effect but Governor Christie has refused, since he took office in 2010, to fund the aid increases required by the formula (over $1 billion in the current school year). By not following the formula and reducing aid levels, the Governor has forced districts to cut the essential teachers, support staff and programs that the State itself has determined these students need to meet academic standards.
“New Jersey’s commitment to fair school funding is why our public schools are among the highest achieving in the nation and competitive with the leading countries in the world,” said David G. Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director and a co-author of the Report Card. “This historic accomplishment represents three decades of hard, sustained effort by advocates, teachers, parents, governors and lawmakers, with occasional prodding by our Supreme Court.”
“But New Jersey is a textbook example of how quickly progress can erode when state legislators and governors refuse to fund their formulas in the annual or biennial state budgets,” Mr. Sciarra added. “Over seven years, Governor Christie has been unwilling to fund New Jersey’s formula, even at reduced levels. New Jersey’s economic and civic vitality depends on investing in all students, especially those most at-risk, so they have the resources needed to succeed in school and in life.”
Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is coauthored by Dr. Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center (ELC); Dr. Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director; Monete Johnson, ELC Research Associate; and Theresa Luhm, Esq., ELC Managing Director. Please visit www.schoolfundingfairness.org
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