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Christie moves to change state school funding formula

education050911_optBY TOM HESTER SR.
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

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.


With a $135 million increase in K-12 formula aid, an increase of 1.8 percent, and the proposed modifications to the SFRA funding formula, 90 percent of districts will receive additional state aid on a per pupil basis this year. On average, state aid is increasing 2.1 percent or $121 per pupil across the state. Because these measures follow the principle that districts should be funded on the actual number of students they serve, 35 of the 97 districts that will receive less state aid will do so because of an enrollment decrease rather than a decrease in per-pupil aid.

As the following demonstrates, Abbotts receive almost three times the state average in state aid per pupil. Overall, the former Abbott districts are receiving 0.55 percent less state aid than last year, yet still remain funded at a significantly higher level than non-Abbott districts and the statewide school district average. The overwhelming amount of total per pupil education spending in the former Abbott districts has, and will continue in Fiscal Year 2013, to come from direct state support. Even with formula revisions, state aid will comprise 3 of every 4 dollars spent on education per pupil in the former Abbott districts.

Average Spending Per Pupil in New Jersey: Statewide Average & All Former Abbott Districts:

State Average: $17,836,

Non-Abbotts: $17,051,

Former Abbotts: $20,859

Average State Aid Per Pupil In the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget:

State Average: $5,809,

Non-Abbotts: $3,223,

Former Abbotts: $15,415

Christie said the past 40 years have demonstrated that just spending more money alone will not close the achievement gap, and that it matters not only “how much” money is spent but “how well” it is spent. The governor said that despite funding levels that consistently rate among the highest in the nation on a per pupil basis, New Jersey continues to have one of the largest achievement gaps in the country. He said funding alone will not meet New Jersey's obligation to give a great education to every child. Changing the way money is spent is by far the most important means of actually changing the behavior of schools and the school systems.

New Jersey has the second highest achievement gap in 8th grade reading according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, and the sixth highest achievement gap in 8th grade math. Since 2005, the gaps for economically disadvantaged, African American, and Hispanic students have widened in Language arts literacy on the NJ ASK.

“We have closed the spending gap between Abbotts and non-Abbotts in New Jersey since 1972, but our disadvantaged children are still performing at significantly lower levels than their peers,” DOE Commissioner Chris Cerf said. “Closing that gap was the explicit goal of the courts and legislature over the past 40 years, but money alone has not gotten us there. While money certainly matters, there is no evidence that money alone will close the achievement gap. Over the last 40 years, we’ve talked a lot about equalizing funding, but we need to change the conversation to focus on whether students are learning the same everywhere, rather than simply whether we are spending the same everywhere.”


New Jersey’s current system funds all districts in the same way, regardless of their performance or the reforms they have in place to address persistent achievement problems.

The “Education Funding Report” also proposes a $50 million Innovation Fund to encourage and reward districts to both improve performance and to implement reforms targeted to specific achievement deficiencies. The fund would reward districts that show high growth and strong performance in student achievement, and fund reforms at the local level that are improving performance for students. The DOE would monitor the implementation and impact of these reforms, ultimately identifying and bringing the most successful to scale statewide.

The report states that in order to have a meaningful and lasting influence on student learning, there needs to be new policy priorities, new laws and regulations, altered classroom practices and district contracts, and start pushing a slate of changes that finally move away from the belief that the funding formula alone will close the achievement gap.

Among many others, that includes:

* Develop policies that enable districts to recruit, prepare, evaluate, compensate, develop, retain and recognize outstanding educators, and eliminate legal and contractual restrictions that impede schools from assuring a highly effective teacher in every classroom;

* Provide educators with the tools they need to be successful by setting high standards for what students should know and be able to do, developing model curriculum to support educators as they teach those standards, and providing real time feedback through formative assessments so teachers can modify their work and differentiate instruction in real time;

* Provide rich data reports to identify how well schools are meeting their mission of improving student outcomes, to identify specific areas for improvement, and to trigger differentiated interventions at the State level such as mandated curriculum and human capital practices; and

* Intervene in schools that do not create an environment conducive to high-quality teaching and learning by providing support through Regional Achievement Centers, requiring targeted turnaround strategies, and aggressively using existing authority to close or replace schools with new management and teachers if they do not improve within two academic cycles.

The findings of the “Education Funding Report” can be found at

http://www.nj.gov/education/stateaid/1213/report.pdf.

State aid figures for New Jersey’s school districts can be found at:

http://www.state.nj.us/education/stateaid/1213/

 

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