Over the past two weeks, it has been gratifying to read comments by local school leaders in response to the administration’s proposed Fairness Formula—particularly the insight of many whose districts would see increased state aid through the plan.
Regardless of whether their districts would “win” or “lose,” the education leaders underscored an essential tenet of effective school funding: Ensuring that each and every student has the opportunity to reach his or her potential. This means recognizing both a community’s ability to pay and the educational needs of its children.
The Fairness Formula (a curious title considering its potential impact on so many students) reflects neither of these concepts.
As public debate continues, I’d like to offer some points about the Fairness Formula, as well as beliefs about school funding based on the policies of the New Jersey School Boards Association and my many years of experience as a district superintendent.
Facts about the Plan:
- Each school district, regardless of property wealth or personal income, would receive the same amount of aid per pupil—$6,599, based on the current state school funding level of $9.1 billion.
- State aid would increase in 75% of New Jersey school districts.
- The Administration has equated increased state aid with property tax reductions. To date, there is no indication if all of the additional state aid must be directed to property tax relief or if it could be used for educational purposes.
- One-quarter (25%) of districts would experience funding reductions, with some losing more than half of their aid. School systems losing funding would include—
(a) The former Abbott districts (approximately 5% of the state’s total school districts), and
(b) A number of non-Abbott districts (approximately 20% of the state’s total school districts), many of which are “property poor” with lower-income residents. These communities have received higher levels of state aid because of their inability to raise the funds needed to provide an adequate education.
- The purpose of a statewide education funding system is to give all students the opportunity to reach their potential. By not recognizing the challenges facing individuals and their learning needs, the Fairness Formula would place many students at a disadvantage that would be impossible to overcome.
- The Fairness Formula would eliminate current funding provisions that recognize the additional resources needed to educate students at risk of failure due to poverty and those with limited English proficiency. As a result, districts with large populations of economically disadvantaged students and English language learners would face severe funding cuts.
- The plan would provide funding for special education. However, the funding mechanism for special needs students, especially those who receive extraordinary out-of-district placements, has not been described.
- There has been no indication of the status of school building debt service aid, as provided through the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act of 2000.
Concerns about the Plan:
- The proposal ignores a community’s ability to pay and the educational needs of children.
- Program cuts on a massive scale would occur in urban centers and economically disadvantaged communities.
- The impact of reducing school funding, eliminating existing programs and harming the quality of education for any student is not in the interest of anyone in New Jersey.
- The New Jersey School Boards Association has a long-term concern with the property-tax burden on the state’s school districts and its impact on their ability to support educational programs. Resolving this issue requires a careful, well-thought-out approach. That’s the path we need to take.
The Fairness Formula would be a massive redistribution of state aid that ignores the educational needs of many students. Is it divisive? Yes. Is it fair? Certainly not!
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Follow me on Twitter: @DrLarryFeinsod