"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stop The Proposed New School Funding Formula Or Kiss Property Tax Relief Goodbye

Democrats are still planning to approve Governor Jon Corzine’s new school aid formula before the last day of the lame-duck legislative session, January 7.

We believe the proposed school funding formula is built on a series of false premises - more money must be spent per student in districts with lower median incomes, called “at-risk”, and in districts with a high percentage of immigrants.

Once lawmakers in Trenton buy into these spending principles, the property tax relief debate is over and taxpayers will have lost.

“Abbott districts have been spending at some of the highest levels in the State, and well beyond non-Abbott districts, with no discernable correlation to improved achievement.”

That quote comes from a Corzine administration brief before the New Jersey Supreme Court. The verdict on the thirty-year experiment is in. More spending didn't equal thorough and it certainly didn't equal efficient. It did equal sky high state income and property taxes. That’s the reality and yet, Governor Corzine is proposing to expand that same failed spending model, albeit under a new name.

When most people think of equal opportunity and adequate school spending they imagine equal spending per student in all districts, with some additional resources allocated for disabled children. That’s not what this new scheme proposes - it layers additional spending on top of additional spending based upon demographics.

The following is an overview of the four basic steps used to develop the proposed new school aid formula. For those in a hurry, check out the charts shown below taken from the New Jersey Department of Education

The Basic Steps

One, determine adequate per student spending to deliver a “thorough and efficient education”.

The state assigned “professional judgment panels” (PJP) using the “costing-out” method to determine the resources necessary to meet the state’s educational standards.

The panels established a base cost per student depending upon district type, K-8 or K-12, and by size of district enrollment – very small, small, moderate, large and very large.

The established base spending amounts reflect economies of scale and are considered adequate for the majority of the state's school districts.

Two, determine any additional spending requirements above adequate base spending and establish weight factors for increasing spending per student.

The panels identified three categories for additional spending – disabled students and two based on district demographics – income and percentage of immigrant population.

The panels developed a series of weight factors to be applied to the base amounts for each category.

Income –“At-Risk”: The panels decided students living in districts with lower per capita median incomes, relative to the state’s average, were “at-risk” and therefore, required additional resources. The panels determined spending per student should increase based upon the "at-risk" intensity of a district.

Spending over the base for “at-risk” districts will range from a low of 42 percent to a high 66 percent per student.

Immigrant Population – EEL: The panels decided English Language Learners (EEL) required additional spending and used the percentage of immigrants living in a district as a proxy for determining districts in need of this additional spending.

Spending over the base for EEL districts will range from a low of 38 percent to a high of 85 percent. This amount would be on top of any “at-risk” factor applied.

Special Education: The panels established levels of special education needs and a series of weight factors for each – speech, moderate, severe, preschool disabled and extended school year.

Spending over base for special education will range from a low of 55 percent to a high of 725 percent.

Three, establish adequate spending per student for each district using the appropriate weight factors and calculate adequate total spending for each district

The state determines each district’s eligibility for increasing base spending for each factor – “at-risk”, ELL and special ed. The product of each weight factor is then added to the appropriate base to arrive at adequate spending per student for each school district.
District enrollment is multiplied by the adequate spending per student amount to determine a district’s adequate spending total.

Four, calculate state aid. State aid is based upon the extent each district can afford to fund the adequate per student spending established by the state for that district. The formula for calculating ability to pay is based on a district’s relative per capita property wealth and income, as measured against the state’s medians.

The state then calculates the total spending each district can afford and subtracts that amount from the total spending deemed adequate for the district. The difference between the two totals equals the amount of state aid the distinct should receive under the formula.

The Charts

Charts below from the New Jersey Department of Education’s website – Planning for a New School Funding Formula. Click on each chart to enlarge.

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