Gov. Chris Christie Thursday announced the changes he wants to make to the state School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) in an attempt to ensure state aid is used in a way that will close the achievement gap between students in poor urban schools and those in suburban schools.
The changes are based on the findings of the “Education Funding Report” prepared by state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf which outlines a series of measures that attempt to save money, and help close the state’s persistent achievement gap, including improving failing schools and changing standards for teachers.
The proposed state budget includes $7.8 billion for public schools, the largest appropriation in New Jersey history and up $213 million from the 2011-12 allotment.
Christie said that making modifications to the school funding formula will make it possible to fund districts based on the number and needs of students, while at the same time laying out a schedule that adds additional funds in each future year and will fully fund the SFRA over the next five years. The governor said the move will increase stability and predictability for districts and fund districts based both on the number of students served and the needs of those students.
“Since taking office, one of my greatest priorities has been working to ensure that every child in the state receives a high quality education that will prepare them for the demands of the 21st century,” Christie said. “In addition to increasing overall spending on education to the highest levels in state history, we can and will go further to implement common sense ways that will make every education dollar count. If we truly want to ensure that all students, regardless of zip code, graduate from high school ready for college and career, the money needs to follow the child.”
Here are the changes as described by the governor’s office:
Measures to Make Every Dollar Count:
* Bringing New Jersey In Line With Other States and Funding Districts Based on How Many Students are Actually Attending School. Encourage school attendance by basing the enrollment count on actual attendance throughout the year rather than the current law which bases enrollment on a single day (Oct. 15). Basing funding on average daily attendance will incentivize districts to focus on and improve attendance rates leading to more time in the classroom for children. Statewide, among large high schools, a mere one percentage point increase in attendance would result in nearly 4.2 million hours of additional instructional time per year.
Only 10 states in the nation, including New Jersey, use a single-day count to measure student enrollment. 40 others states use more accurate and meaningful measures of student enrollment, including average daily attendance measures or multiple days over the course of the school year.
* Making Adjustment Aid Truly Adjustment Aid. Adjustment aid should actually be a tool to help districts that are below adequacy, instead of what it currently is – political currency that provides additional funds to districts regardless of their current enrollment and spending levels. This is a symbol of the old Trenton, when funding decisions were made as political giveaways regardless of the implications. The plan calls for a return to common sense - for districts that are spending above the level of their adequacy budgets, phase out, over five years, adjustment aid by 50 percent of the amount they are spending over their adequacy budgets.
* Rooting Out Fraud and Abuse. The administration will convene a task force to recommend a new measure for "at-risk" students in place of participation in the Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program, which has shown to be inaccurate and subject to fraud. There will be no change for this year.
* Returning to Originally Proposed School Funding Reform Levels. New Jersey is one of the most generous state funders of “at-risk” and Limited English Proficiency students in the country. Under the proposal, even when returning to the originally proposed reform levels, New Jersey will still provide funding for these students at some of the highest levels in the country. These levels were recommended after a three year process including multiple panels of experts before they were artificially inflated.
* 90 percent of Districts Receiving Additional Aid On A Per Pupil Basis New Jersey currently ranks 3rd in the country in school expenditures per student, spending more than 60 percent above the national average. Nearly 60 percent of state aid goes to the 31 former Abbott districts, where spending has tripled since 1972. Former Abbott districts now spend $3,200 per pupil more than the state average (excluding the former Abbotts) and $3,100 per pupil more than the state’s wealthiest districts.