"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Funding Formula For New Jersey’s Public Schools

The Education Law Center, famous for bringing the Abbott School lawsuits, recently sued the state and won. The Center’s executive director, David Sciarra, was dying to get his hands on a state report that analyzed the cost and funding of public education in New Jersey. Sciarra got his wish when earlier this month Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg ordered the state to release information from the study.

The study, commissioned by the McGreevey administration, was conducted by Augenblick, Palaich, & Associates, Inc., (APA) a Denver-based consulting firm. The analysis compared actual school spending district-by-district, with what should be spent, as determined through a complex formula. (See summary cart below)

Sciarra probably wishes he had never sought to have the findings made public.

The report concludes that the 31 “needy” Abbott school districts, spent a total of $3.9 billion in the 2004-2005 school year, but need a fraction less, $3.875 billion. The Abbott districts are funded primarily with state aid, with local taxes shouldering, on average, only 11 percent of school costs. Average actual cost per student in the Abbott districts is $14,287. The study recommends a small reduction in funding to an average of $14,196 per student.

The study found the 407 school districts labeled “middle-income", spent a total of $7.978 billion, but need to spend $8.511 billion, an additional $533 million. Many of these school districts were deemed to be seriously under funded, others greatly over funded, and few districts were close to spending the recommended amount. The ratio of state aid to local funding also varies widely among these districts. Average cost per student for the middle-income districts is $11,056. The study recommends an average funding per student of $11,830 for the school districts in this category.

According to the report, the 128 school districts categorized as “wealthy” spent a total of $3.14 billion, about $166 million more than the consultant’s formula deemed necessary. For these districts, state aid is minimal and local property taxpayers pick up an average of 94 percent of school costs. The wealthy districts spent an average of $11,320 per student, while the study deemed an average of $10,720 per student as adequate.

These are not the findings Sciarra had hoped to uncover. Earlier this year, the Education Law Center sued the state of New Jersey for $550 million in additional funding for the Abbott districts and lost the case. The state argued that funding parity with the wealthiest school districts had been achieved by 1998, and that the Abbott school districts were already getting $500 million in state aid above the parity level. As the state’s brief to the New Jersey Supreme Court stated:
In FY1998, the Abbott average comparative cost per pupil was $8,438, the State average comparative cost per pupil was $7,979, and the I&J [128 wealthiest school districts] average comparative cost per pupil was $8,205. By FY2006, the Abbott average had grown 69% -- to $14,287. Such an amount far exceeds the FY2006 State average comparative cost per pupil of $11,056 and the I&J [wealthy] district average comparative cost per pupil of $11,320.
After reviewing the report, Sciarra called the consultants’ recommendations “not credible” and said, "Clearly, the department's effort to determine education costs was not professional, rigorous or thorough." He’s mad because the report didn’t recommend hundreds of millions more in state spending for the Abbott schools, but his conclusion is correct – the consultant’s recommendations are incredible.

The Education Law Center has published the cost and funding information from the Augenblick report on its website. Here you can see what your school district spends and the amount deemed necessary under the recommended funding formula. To determine your school district’s average cost per student and the recommended spending per student, divide each figure by the district’s enrollment, which may be found here.

The chart below provides the summary level information based on actual spending as compared to the consultant’s recommended funding (DOE Adequacy) for each school district category.

Click to Enlarge



2 Comments:

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you see the report as a basis for mid-level schools to sue to redistribute the excess amounts paid by "wealthy" districts to them to meet the formula? I guess they wouldn't call the new mid-level districts "Abbott II's". For pure entertainment value though, I hope the lead plaintiff is someone named Costello.

 
At 3:56 PM, Anonymous persiflage said...

This report strikes me as insanity, made visible. The study recommends that the "wealthy" school districts spend 5% less than they are currently spending per pupil, and only 75.5% as much, per pupil, as the "needy" districts? To what possible purpose? Equalization of poor academic performance?

 

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