The state would have to come up with an extra $1 billion to give school districts all the aid they should get under the current school funding formula, according to a data from the state Department of Education.
And while no one expects the state to come up with that much money, the data released Wednesday provide a snapshot of state aid distribution disparities, and how much money school districts would actually need to meet what state law considers an “adequate” amount to educate all children.
The report comes after the state also notified districts in April that they would not be getting their two June state aid payments until the new fiscal year in July, to help balance the state budget for the 2013-14 year, which is showing an $800 million deficit. Districts have been told they can borrow money if they need to pay bills in June, and the state will pay the interest.
Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget for 2014-15 does not follow the state aid formula, but gives every district an extra $20 per student more than what they are getting this year. State legislators and education groups asked that the formula be run, and the Education Law Center filed a court motion under the Abbott vs. Burke case saying the state was obligated to calculate the funding required even if it did not intend to provide it.
According to the data, all but 25 of 580 school districts statewide would get an increase under the School Funding Reform Act model, some of them millions of dollars more. Many are middle-income districts that have seen their demographics shift and have never received full funding.
Locally, Egg Harbor Township would get almost $8 million more in aid, Greater Egg Harbor Regional an extra $5 million, Hamilton Township $4.5 million,Galloway Township $4 million and Atlantic City and Hammonton about $3 million.
Egg Harbor Township Superintendent Scott McCartney said the data show how the township schools and taxpayers have been shortchanged. He said that money could help fund programs in the schools and provide some property tax relief.
“This has been our argument of the better part of a decade,” he said of the funding shortfall. “It really does set us back. Every year we have to cut $2 million, $3 million, even $4 million from our proposed budget to stay within the two percent cap.”
The state also calculated aid using changes to the formula proposed by the 2012 Educational Adequacy Report, which would require only about an extra $5 million statewide Under that scenario, 160 districts would get more funding, and 420 would get less, but the amounts are much smaller. EHT would lose about $220,000 under that scenario, which reduces funding for at-risk, bilingual and special education students.
David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, said the report shows how the governor “dramatically shortchanges” districts across the state by not providing the basc funding they need. He said the notices now give state legislators the information they need to develop a budget that might better meet the needs of schools.
Department of Education officials are scheduled to appear before the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday.
Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents largely suburban districts, said the information is valuable to have, but she does not know if the formula, should it be enforced in court, would apply to all schools or just the 31 urban districts in the original Abbott vs, Burke lawsuit.
“The court has said before that it could only address Abbotts, so we don’t really know if (the justices) could say the formula now applies to everyone,”she said.
Locally, the original Abbott districts include Pleasantville, Vineland, Millville and Bridgeton. Only Bridgeton would see a substantial increase, about $15 million, under the SFRA funding formula. Aid to the other three districts would remain virtually flat, and Vineland would actually lose about $250,000.
Strickland said not everyone supported the funding formula, and there are still questions about the disparities in how much money districts receive in the base or “equalization” aid that is calculated using a combination of factors including enrollment and wealth. That aid makes up about $6 billion of the almost $8 billion in direct state aid to schools.
“But there are some districts (that) get none,” Strickland said of the equalization aid. “How do we balance this?”
Local districts that get no equalization include Brigantine, Margate, Longport, Ventnor, Avalon, Cape May, Ocean City, North Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, Long Beach Island and Southern Regional. Those districts do get categorical aid for specific areas including transportation and special education.
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