Do textbooks cost less if you have them shipped to Fairfield Township rather than New Brunswick? Does it cost less to heat a building or power a computer in Wildwood than it does in Hoboken?
State lawmakers seem to think so.
The 2008 School Funding Reform Act contained something called the geographic cost adjustment, which reduces school aid to 11 counties - most of them in southern New Jersey - under the assumption that costs are lower in the less-populated parts of the state.
The affected school districts are in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem counties in the southern portion of the state, and Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties in the north.
The idea seems to be a throwback to a time when people in urban areas saw the rest of New Jersey as a rural backwater. Fortunately, word seems to have reached Trenton that these counties are not so different from the rest of the state.
In June, the state Senate approved a bill to eliminate the outdated geographic adjustment. The bill was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jeff Van Drew, whose district includes Cape May and Cumberland counties, which have seen the most drastic downward adjustment because of the aid-reduction formula. The bill is now in the Assembly.
As the bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, Warren, Morris, said, "The expectation that it is less expensive to operate a school district in rural communities is a farce."
That's because the bulk of school spending is similar for districts throughout the state. The costs of special education, energy, supplies, food services and out-of-district placement are comparable. When these districts shop for superintendents, for instance, they have to pay the market rate. And rural districts may face higher transportation costs than their urban and suburban counterparts.
Many rural districts - with small tax bases - are already struggling to make do with inadequate funding. Education Commissioner Chris Cerf discovered this when he visited schools in Woodbine and Port Norris in June and said he was surprised by some of the conditions he found.
Lawmakers can help by eliminating the geographic adjustment.