As Governor Chris Christie proposes yet another year of underfunding the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), a new analysis by Education Law Center shows that the funding gap between New Jersey’s lowest and highest wealth districts grew by 40%.
The analysis shows that in 2012-13 New Jersey’s highest wealth districts outspent poor districts by $1,470 per pupil when adjusted for student need, up from $1,050 in 2008-09.
The SFRA was designed to more fairly distribute state aid using a formula that determines the extra funding required to provide services for at-risk students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. Using these SFRA-defined additional costs for students with special needs, ELC devised a new method to compare funding between districts called “Funding per Weighted Pupil” (FWP).
Instead of simply comparing funding per student – as the NJ Department of Education does – FWP uses a weighted enrollment that accounts for the extra resources some students require. Using this method provides a more accurate way of comparing funding levels among districts that serve very different populations. [Click here to see summary charts and individual district data.]
Comparing funding levels at the outset of the SFRA in 2008-09 to levels in 2012-13, ELC finds that the low wealth districts in district factor group (DFG) A&B added only $36 per student, while the two highest wealth districts in DFG I&J increased spending by $624 per student. Middle-income districts increased funding by only $241 per student.
The patterns for individual districts are also alarming. Over one-third of school districts have less funding per weighted student in 2012-13 than they did in 2008-09. Low-income and lower middle class districts are more likely to have had losses over this four-year period than the upper middle class and wealthiest districts.
Because the FWP calculation is analogous to the base per pupil amount in the SFRA, weighted funding levels can be compared to the per pupil amount that the SFRA defines as necessary for a student to meet New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS). Due to the lack of full funding, improper adjustments to the formula and property tax caps, all implemented under Governor Christie’s watch, a decreasing number of districts across the state are receiving the funding that the SFRA determines is required to provide the CCCS. In 2008-09, 124, or 22% of districts, were funding students below the $9,649 adequacy level defined by SFRA. By 2013, the SFRA base cost increased to $10,555, and the number of districts falling below that threshold nearly doubled to 209 districts, or 37%.
Because of the Governor’s failure to properly fund the SFRA, poor and middle-class districts are falling further behind. In 2013, 65% of low-income districts are spending below the adequacy threshold, up from 42%, and 39% of middle-class districts are below, compared to 22% in 2008-09. High wealth districts, on the other hand, have remained more stable, with the number of districts spending below the SFRA-defined base cost only increasing from 8% to 11%.
“Our FWP analysis moves beyond the Christie’s Administration’s empty claim of excess spending in New Jersey’s poorest districts,” said David Sciarra, ELC’s Executive Director. “Instead, we see that low- and middle-income districts across New Jersey are increasingly being asked to do more with less as the Governor thwarts the Garden State’s commitment to fair and equitable funding through the SFRA funding formula.”
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