According to a new report released earlier this week, New Jersey is the most fair and equitable state in the region, if not the nation, when it comes to funding public education. The report, “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card – 2nd Edition,” is coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC); and Danielle Farrie, Research Director for ELC.
The National Report Card, first issued in 2010, is built on the principle that predictable, stable and equitable state systems of school finance are the essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education and are of critical importance to the success of efforts to close persistent achievement gaps among the nation’s low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
The Report Card evaluates states on four separate, but interrelated, “fairness indicators” – funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and public school coverage. The Second Edition uses the most recent three years of data available – from 2006-2009.
New Jersey is one of the few states that is positioned relatively well on all four measures. In most cases, New Jersey is also the top performing state in the region.
Using figures that are adjusted to allow for state comparisons, New Jersey’s average funding level is only slightly behind New York’s at $16,817 per pupil. Pennsylvania’s funding is significantly lower, at $12,976 per pupil. All three states saw their per pupil funding increase from previous years, with New York seeing the greatest gains. These increases, however, do not capture recent cuts in school funding in all three states in 2011.
New Jersey also stands out in the region when evaluating whether a state has progressive funding distribution. “Progressive” funding means that the state provides more aid to schools with higher poverty rates. New Jersey’s funding system is clearly progressive, with the average high poverty district receiving about 42% more funding than a low poverty district. The other two states in the region actually have “regressive” funding systems, meaning they distribute less funding to high poverty districts. In New York and Pennsylvania, on average, high poverty districts receive only about 90% of the funding that low poverty districts receive.
New Jersey gets an “A” on the effort indicator, a measure that shows the differences in state spending on education relative to a state’s fiscal capacity. New York and Pennsylvania also do relatively well on this measure, with New York also receiving an “A” and Pennsylvania receiving a “B.” All three states have shown some growth in their fiscal effort over the previous years.
New Jersey is ranked 21st overall in the coverage indicator with the highest percentage of students in the region attending public, rather than private, schools and the smallest income disparity between public and private school families. Pennsylvania (ranked 41) and New York (ranked 44), have slightly smaller proportions of students in public school and have greater income disparities. In New York, the average household income of private school households is 60% higher than the income of public school households.
“The Garden State stands out as a beacon of educational equity among our neighboring states,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and co-author of the report. “Our commitment to fair school funding also pays huge dividends in outcomes, as we know from New Jersey’s stellar performance on national and international achievement benchmarks.”
New Jersey’s high standing on these measures, both compared to New York and Pennsylvania , and compared to the country as a whole, is the result of years of investment in public schools, including designing an equitable funding system and providing access to high quality preschool.
The National Report Card also underscores the critical importance of fair funding in efforts to improve public schools, especially those serving high need communities and neighborhoods. Governor Christie has made clear his opposition to equitable school funding by seeking funding cuts and changes to the state school funding formula.
“If New Jersey is to continue efforts to improve education and outcomes for our most disadvantaged school children, it is essential that lawmakers, parents, and concerned citizens join together to make certain we sustain our historic investments in New Jersey’s high performing public education system,” Mr. Sciarra added.
Please visit the website “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card” for the complete report and an Executive Summary. The website also features new interactive data reports and links to the 2010 edition of the report.
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