Education Law Center has updated its comprehensive set of interactive data on New Jersey school funding statewide and for all school districts. The updated data is now available on the organization’s website, Dr. Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director, announced today.
The data tracks implementation of the weighted student funding formula enacted in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA). The data has been updated to cover the period from 2008-09 through the current (2018-19) school year.
“The data allows parents, advocates, policymakers and researchers to analyze in detail the level of state aid and local taxes provided through the SFRA formula relative to ’adequacy,’ that is, the cost of educating New Jersey students to meet state academic standards,” said Dr Farrie.
The SFRA formula is based on the cost of providing the teachers, support staff and other resources needed to deliver state content standards, weighted by the cost of additional resources for low-income (at-risk) students, English language learners (ELL) and students with disabilities. The core of the formula is each district’s “adequacy budget,” calculated based on the district’s unique or weighted student enrollment.
In 2009, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the SFRA formula, if properly implemented by the Legislature and Governor, provides “adequate” funding for a “thorough and efficient” education as mandated by the State Constitution.
If the SFRA had been properly implemented since its enactment in 2008-09, most districts would now have the state and local funds to spend at their adequacy budget levels. But in 2010-11, former Governor Chris Christie cut over $1.1 billion in state aid from the SFRA, and then refused to fund the aid increases required by the formula from 2011-12 through 2017-18. Governor Christie’s neglect of the formula resulted in many districts spending below – in some cases well below – their adequacy level.
The updated state summary data on the ELC website demonstrates the lack of progress towards funding adequacy over the past decade. The absence of aid increases, coupled with inflation, enrollment shifts, and growing numbers of high-need students has left many districts worse off than when the SFRA was enacted in 2008.
The significant takeaways based on the updated data are:
- New Jersey’s public school enrollment has been relatively steady from 2008-09 to 2018-19, but the number of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch has dramatically increased from 27% to 39%, and the ELL population has increased from 4% to 6%.
- The number of districts spending below their adequacy budgets increased from 125 (22%) to 143 (26%) in 2018-19.
- Low-wealth school districts experienced the most backsliding. The number of low-wealth districts spending below their adequacy budgets increased from 42 to 65, and a majority of the state’s poorer districts (60%) are now spending below the level required for a “thorough and efficient” education.
- School districts across the state are underfunded in state aid by over $1 billion. The greatest deficits are in the lowest wealth communities where districts are underfunded by an average of $1,667 per pupil, compared to $215 per pupil in the highest wealth districts.
- The lowest wealth districts are also underfunded in the local property tax revenue required under the SFRA for their adequacy budgets, called the Local Fair Share (LFS). On average, low-wealth districts have shortfalls in local revenue of $1,546 per pupil. In contrast, middle- and high-wealth districts, on average, have local revenue in excess of what is required by the formula. Middle-wealth districts raise, on average, $1,524 per pupil above the LFS, and the highest wealth communities raise an additional $3,394 per pupil.
District-by-district funding profiles, also available on the ELC website, provide an in-depth look at each district’s funding level relative to its adequacy budget. The database allows for an examination of district enrollment trends, tax rates, and the economic factors that determine a district’s local fair share. Charts also depict trends in spending relative to adequacy, and whether state and local funding is above or below the levels required by the SFRA.
The updated database also captures the increase in state aid under the SFRA formula for the 2018-19 school year. While many districts below their adequacy budgets received the first sizeable aid increase in almost a decade, other districts, including 20 districts under adequacy, lost aid as a result of the Legislature’s decision to cut “adjustment aid,” a categorical aid designed to assist districts in transitioning to the SFRA formula. ELC opposed the aid cuts to under adequacy districts.
ELC will be working with advocates and district officials in the coming months to ensure that school aid in the 2019-20 State Budget meets the Supreme Court’s 2009 court mandate directing the state to fully fund the formula.
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