An extra $36.8 million in school aid doesn’t go very far when it has to be shared among 577 school districts.
State school aid for 2014-15 was released by the state Department of Education on Thursday afternoon, and the biggest local winners are districts that participate in the Public School Choice program.
In his budget address this week, Gov. Chris Christie promised that all districts would get more aid, and that is true.
Statewide, districts will share about $27 million, or an extra $20 per student, half of which is allocated toward helping districts prepare for new online state tests next year. For most area districts, that represents a less than 1 percent increase in state aid.
But districts that joined or added students to their choice program also received about $10,000 more in state aid for each new student. This year Atlantic City, Vineland, Pinelands Regional, Middle Township, Upper Township and Wildwood Crest were all approved by the state to accept students from other towns.
That decision will generate an extra $121,400 in state aid for Atlantic City, $251,200 for Middle Township, $394,800 for Upper Township, $147,000 for Wildwood Crest, $51,000 for Vineland and $30,000 for Pinelands Regional. Wildwood Crest’s extra money represents a 30 percent increase in the small district’s total state aid.
Districts that increased their school choice enrollment also received extra aid. Ocean City will get almost $400,000 in additional aid for a total $2.7 million in choice aid alone, or more than two thirds of its entire state aid allocation of $3.8 million.
In West Cape May, choice aid makes up all but $80,000 of its total $508,000 in state aid.
Local district officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. Statewide reaction to the aid was mixed.
Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, New Jersey School Boards Association executive director, said the extra money to help districts prepare for new online state tests would be helpful.
“All of us in the education community are concerned about the technological challenges presented by PARCC (the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), whether they involve available broadband, hardware or software compatibility,” Feinsod said.
A survey by the group last year found 75 percent of districts that responded were spending money on infrastructure upgrades, and some cited the 2 percent cap on property taxes as a hindrance to funding all that was necessary.
David Sciarra, of the Education Law Center, said the small amount of additional aid provided won’t have much of an impact. He noted that the state has never made up what he said is a $5 billion shortfall in aid districts should have received over the last four years under the state formula.
“Obviously, this paltry sum won't begin to cover the cost of maintaining current staff, programs and services,” Sciarra said, adding that districts should prepare for another round of cuts, and that he would be working with other education advocates to try to convince the state Legislature to provide more funds.
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