High Poverty Districts Could See Reductions of Over $1,000 Per Pupil
Governor Chris Christie’s proposed FY13 State Budget targets New Jersey’s low-income, or “at-risk,” students for significant cuts in school funding. These cuts will fall hardest on schools across the state serving high numbers of poor students, according to an analysis by Education Law Center.
The Governor’s cut to funding for at-risk students is among the proposed changes to the State’s school aid formula – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – unveiled in a report issued to the Legislature on February 23 by Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf entitled the “Education Funding Report” or “Cerf Report.”
Under SFRA, every school district has an “adequacy budget” that is determined by the cost of educating students based on need. The budget includes a “base cost” for all students, an “at-risk” cost for low-income students, an “LEP” cost for students with limited English proficiency, and costs for students with disabilities. The costs are funded by local property taxes and state aid through the SFRA formula.
As detailed in the Cerf Report, the Governor wants legislators to sign off on a major reduction in the cost of educating at-risk students, LEP students, and students who are both at-risk and LEP. This would be accomplished by lowering the “weights” for these students in the SFRA formula. The weights represent the additional costs, expressed as a fraction of the base cost, to provide smaller classes, tutoring, intensive literacy and other programs and services for students who are at-risk academically or are learning English.
The Governor is proposing to lower the SFRA formula weights as follows:
? At-risk Students: from .47 to .42 for the lowest poverty districts, and from .57 to .46 in the highest poverty districts. In dollar terms, this translates into a $478 reduction per at-risk pupil in low poverty districts, and a $1,101 reduction in high poverty districts.
? LEP Students: from .50 to .47, or a reduction of $264 per LEP pupil.
? Combo Students: from .125 to .1052 for students who are both at-risk and LEP, causing a drop of $196 per pupil on top of the at-risk reduction.
These cost reductions will have a dramatic impact, especially in the poorest districts. For example, in a district such as Newark – with a student poverty rate of 87% and 35,000 at-risk students – the reduction in the weight for at-risk students would lower the district’s adequacy budget by over $41 million. Newark would see an additional cut of $3.9 million for LEP and combo students. Overall, Newark’s adequacy budget would drop by $45.6 million, causing significant funding cuts for students enrolled in both district-run and charter schools in the city.
The vast majority of districts in the state would see their adequacy budgets reduced, with the size of the cuts higher in districts serving more at-risk and LEP students. In low poverty districts, the average reduction is $67 per-pupil in contrast to $931 per pupil in a high poverty district, or 14 times higher in a high poverty district.
Overall, the Governor’s proposal would:
? reduce the cost of educating at-risk and LEP students by over $400 million statewide;
? create a situation in which over 40% of that statewide total — or $191 million – would occur in districts with poverty rates over 75%, and 80% — or $335 million — would occur in districts with poverty rates over 50%.
“The Governor is proposing cuts that are deep, severe and strike at the very heart of the SFRA formula — funding at-risk students without regard to zip code,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “This proposal would radically change the SFRA formula, has no educational justification, and would deny critical programs to students who need them the most.”
“The Legislature must now stand up by enacting a fair education budget using the real cost of educating our students, and not the phony costs in the Cerf Report,” Mr. Sciarra added.
To find out how the proposed weight reductions would affect your district, click here.
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