Senators: Budget for the first time provides aid to school districts based on fair formula that eliminates growth cap and reallocates Adjustment Aid to underfunded districts
TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Committee Chair M. Teresa Ruiz today lauded the allocation of an additional $181 million for underfunded districts, preschool expansion and Extraordinary Special Education Aid as a landmark first step toward school funding fairness that will help guarantee a “thorough and efficient” education for all schoolchildren in New Jersey.
“This budget increases aid to underfunded school districts, reallocates Adjustment Aid from districts that are receiving more aid than they should, expands preschool education and provides more money for Extraordinary Special Education Aid – which were the top priorities of those who testified before our Senate Select Committee on School Funding Fairness,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland).
“We set out on a mission more than a year ago to address the most important issue in our state –education. We visited early childhood programs and school districts across New Jersey, and we heard time and again about the need to expand preschool programs and to help underfunded school districts. We committed to doing so and I am pleased that today we can say we are making good on that promise,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “I want to thank the Senate President for his dedication, belief and partnership in this effort.”
The budget approved by the Senate Monday night provides $131 million in additional aid to underfunded districts, including $100 million in new money and $31 million in Adjustment Aid reallocated from districts that have been receiving more than their fair share of state aid. The budget also adds $25 million for preschool expansion and $25 million in increased funding for Extraordinary Special Education Aid.
Eight-four percent of New Jersey schoolchildren – 1,095,344 in all – attend schools in districts that are gaining funding. Four-fifths of the 472,464 “at risk” schoolchildren live in districts that gain funding, as do 86 percent of the 70,600 students with Limited English Proficiency.
“Underfunding is not an urban versus suburban issue,” said Senator Sweeney. “This budget keeps faith with the hundreds of parents, students, educators and school officials who participated in legislative hearings, roundtables and town meetings urging us to ‘run and fund’ the formula fairly.
“It’s unfair for schoolchildren in underfunded districts like Paterson and Kingsway Regional, Trenton and Monroe Township, to have to go to schools that are slashing staff or spending, so that districts with declining enrollment or rising property wealth can keep getting Adjustment Aid. And it’s unfair to taxpayers in underfunded districts to have to pay more so that taxpayers in over-aided districts can pay less.”
Property taxpayers in underfunded districts pay an average of 10 percent more than their local fair share of property taxes under the School Funding Reform Act formula that takes into account property wealth and income in determining a district’s “ability to pay.” School districts that receive more than their fair share of state aid pay an average of just 91 percent.
The FY2018 budget allocates two-thirds of the $131 million in increased school funding to districts that receive less than 70 percent of the school funding they would receive if the SFRA was fairly run with the Growth Cap and Adjustment Aid eliminated, and the remaining one-third to districts that are between 70 percent and 99.9 percent funded. Adjustment Aid cuts are limited to no more than 20 percent of excess funding, 1.5 percent of a district’s budget or 2 percent of state aid, whichever is lower.
“I am pleased that this budget provides increased funding to more than 440 school districts, from the largest cities like Newark, which I represent, to small underfunded communities like Chesterfield and Little Ferry,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “In addition to getting woefully underfunded districts money for critically needed programs, this plan provides funding to continue the expansion of preschool education that was promised in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.”
Senator Sweeney noted that increasing state funding for Extraordinary Special Education Aid was one of the Select Committee’s top priorities. The $25 million allocation will increase the state funding percentage for the aid program from 56 percent of the formula to 64 percent.
Senator Ruiz has made increased funding for preschool one of her top priorities. “Educators, business leaders and former governors agree that creating access to quality preschool education for all New Jersey schoolchildren is one of the best investments we can make,” she said. “It pays off in better student achievement, job placement and college admission and lower future societal costs.”