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AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH...OR HOW GOVERNOR CHRISTIE IS WRONG ON NJ’S SCHOOL FUNDING FORMULA

September 22, 2011

Governor Christie heaps criticism on New Jersey’s school funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA) – every chance he gets. He’s made no secret of his desire to cut public education funding by changing or getting rid of the SFRA formula.

But he knows that changes to the SFRA have to be approved by the Legislature. And fortunately for our 1.3 million public school students, many legislators, including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, are defending the SFRA and making it clear they don’t support the Governor’s plan to gut the formula and cut education funding.

The Governor leveled his latest attack on the SFRA in an interview with the NJ School Boards Association on September 8. Once again, the Governor displayed a striking ignorance of the process used to develop the SFRA and how the formula actually works to provide funding to our students. Nor does the Governor acknowledge the support from both Republican and Democratic legislators that led to the enactment of the SFRA in 2008.

Below are the myths most often repeated by the Governor about the SFRA, and the real facts about New Jersey’s unique method of funding public education:

MYTH

FACT

Governor Christie says the SFRA “has shown itself to be a failure.”

Wrong.  In 2008 and 2009, the Legislature funded the formula, bringing significant and long overdue aid increases to most school districts, particularly middle-income and rural districts. But in Governor Christie’s first budget in 2010, he cut over $1.6 billion from the SFRA, wiping out all the gains made in the first two years. The “failure” is not with the SFRA, but with the Governor’s refusal to fund the formula for all districts statewide.

Governor Christie claims the SFRA formula “puts billions and billions of dollars” into poor urban, so-called Abbott, districts.

Wrong.  The SFRA does not put “billions” into Abbott districts. In fact, the SFRA ended Abbott funding and Abbott districts altogether. The SFRA was carefully designed based on six years of study by the NJ Department of Education, with extensive input from experts, stakeholders and parents. The formula is built upon the core principle that the “money follows the child,” i.e., making sure the needs of all students are funded, regardless of zip code. The Governor also ignores the fact that the prime beneficiaries of the SFRA formula are not urban students, but those in 221 moderate- and middle-income districts spending below “adequacy” – or the level determined in the formula as necessary to provide a quality education.

Governor Christie says the SFRA needs to be “totally” evaluated and changed.

Why?  The Governor fails to identify even one specific problem with the SFRA formula, let alone offer reasons why the entire formula doesn’t serve the needs of New Jersey students. The Governor ignores the fact that the SFRA is based on the cost of educating students to meet our rigorous academic standards, along with the cost of additional programs needed by at-risk (low-income) students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. This is why the SFRA garnered bipartisan support in the Legislature and was ruled constitutional for all students by the NJ Supreme Court in 2009.      

Governor Christie says New Jersey has to find a “different way” to fund public education.

 

Why?  The Governor offers no reason why the “money follows the child” formula in the SFRA doesn’t provide adequate and equitable funding for all students. And the Governor conveniently ignores the fact that when compared to other states, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey stands out as a model for “reform” in public school funding. 

Governor Christie says poor urban districts need “other things” to be successful – like changing how teachers are evaluated and merit pay. The Governor also wants vouchers to use public funding to pay for children in private and parochial schools.

A Red Herring. Nothing in the SFRA formula prevents the Governor from asking the Legislature to enact changes to teacher evaluations or to authorize a merit pay program. In fact, attracting, supporting and retaining high quality teachers and other improvement efforts in high poverty schools depend upon having the adequate funding levels provided by the SFRA formula. As for the Governor’s voucher proposal, research shows that vouchers drain scarce resources from public schools, cause more segregation and inequality, and do nothing to improve public education.

Governor Christie says his administration cut $820 million in school funding in 2010, his first year in office, but put an additional $850 million into school aid this year, thereby “paying back” the $820 million and adding an additional $30 million.

 

Wrong.  The Governor actually cut a total of $1.6 billion in aid from the formula in 2010, almost 20% of state aid to districts under the SFRA. This year (2011) the Governor put back funding for urban districts – but only because he was ordered to do so by the Supreme Court – and added some additional funding for other districts. The Governor fails to mention that he vetoed a budget passed by the Legislature that included full SFRA funding for moderate- and middle-income and rural districts spending below “adequacy,” leaving many students still without the necessary funding.

The Governor repeats his claims over and over again, as if they were true.  But these claims are false, without any basis in fact. 

Cutting through the Governor’s political rhetoric, here’s the bottom line: for the first time in 30 years, NJ has a funding formula that is fair and equitable and, if funded from year-to-year, provides local educators with a predictable, stable level of funding needed for student success. So let’s make sure the Governor’s plan to change the SFRA and cut school funding goes nowhere in the Legislature. And let’s roll up our sleeves to make sure legislators pass a budget next year that, finally, delivers full SFRA funding to every student, wherever they attend school. NJ students are entitled to, and deserve, no less.

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Coordinator
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24