Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf last week unveiled the long-awaited Education Funding Report, which serves as a blueprint for changes to the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA).
The 83-page document – which was released on Feb. 23, the same time that local district school aid for fiscal 2013 was announced – is a periodic report required under the SFRA to recommend needed changes to the state’s funding formula. Last week's report recommended changes to the weighting system of per-pupil aid categories, which serve as the basis to determine how much state aid each district receives.
Key recommendations included in the report call for the state to:
Create a 50-percent reduction of adjustment aid for districts spending above the per-pupil adequacy amounts over a five-year period;
Adjust the weights assigned to at-risk students back to the levels originally recommended by the Professional Judgment Panels (PJP) that calculated the original adequacy amounts included in SFRA;
Convene a task force to develop a new measure for at-risk students in place of the federal free and reduced lunch eligibility currently in place;
Calculate individual district aid based on average daily enrollment, used by 40 other states, rather than the single day count currently in use;
- Increase by $3,346 in the per-pupil weights for special education students;
- Create a $50 million Innovation Fund to encourage and reward districts to both improve performance and implement reforms targeted to specific achievement deficiencies;
- Reduce the weighting factor used for county vocational schools, from 31 percent over the per-pupil high school weight in fiscal 2012 to 26 percent for fiscal 2013.
Possible Controversy Some aspects of the report recommendations are controversial. The scaling back of adjustment aid for many districts could ultimately result in an overall reduction in aid in excess of $200 million based on the recommendations for fiscal 2013.
Using the weights originally proposed by the PJP’s for at-risk students yields a reduction in aid to the former Abbott districts. According to media reports, 23 of the state's 31 Abbott districts will lose funding in the next school year. In all, the state's 31 Abbott districts will see a reduction in aid of more than $24 million from the more than $4.4 billion they received in the current school year.
Calculating individual district aid on an average daily basis is also likely to further reduce the aid amounts to urban districts that typically have the largest daily enrollment fluctuations.
The report includes no significant increase for extraordinary special education aid, especially for private, out-of-district placements.
Next Steps While the components of the Education Funding Report form the basis for the fiscal 2013 school aid recommendations, it should be noted that the Legislature must concur on the proposed changes before they are adopted.
NJSBA will be monitoring the Legislature’s response to these recommendations as the balance of the fiscal 2013 budget process unfolds.