NEW JERSEY'S 50 MOST UNDERFUNDED SCHOOL DISTRICTS
May 4, 2016
When the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) was enacted in 2008, New Jersey took the bold step of funding public education statewide based on a “weighted student formula” painstakingly designed to address the level of resources required for students with varying needs, such as low income (at-risk) students and English language learners (ELLs).
Since Governor Chris Christie took office in 2010, the promise of fair and adequate funding for all students under the SFRA, regardless of district or zip code, has been broken. Governor Christie has shortchanged districts through a combination of state aid cuts and flat funding over six years. The level of SFRA underfunding in the current school year is $1 billion. The Governor’s proposed FY17 State Budget is more of the same, with a paltry $36 million increase, an amount that hardly makes a dent in the $0.9 billion owed school districts in the coming school year.
Under Governor Christie, 40% of New Jersey districts now have funding levels below their SFRA “adequacy budgets,” or the amount needed to provide a thorough and efficient education to all students. The underfunding is particularly acute in districts with growing enrollment and those with rising numbers of at-risk students, who require additional resources to meet State academic standards.
Which districts are most underfunded? A new Education Law Center analysis identifies the “Top 50 Most Underfunded Districts” in 2015-16. The districts are ranked by their “uncapped” per pupil state aid under the SFRA. Although the SFRA formula included annual limits or caps on the aid increase each district could receive, if the formula had been fully funded most districts would now be at their full state aid level.
Manchester Regional High School in Passaic County, Bound Brook Borough in Somerset County, and Fairview Borough in Bergen County top the list of the 50 most underfunded districts. Each of these districts have seen an increase in the number of higher cost at-risk and ELL students entitled to additional funding under the SFRA:
- The number of ELLs attending Manchester Regional has increased by 69% since 2009.
- Bound Brook Borough, where 73% of all students are low-income, , has had a 26% increase in ELLs since 2009.
- Fairview Borough has experienced a 70% increase in the number of special education students and a 50% increase in ELLs since 2009.
The 50 most underfunded are districts with high concentrations of at-risk and ELL students. Underfunding in these districts ranges from $4,000 to $11,500 per pupil in state aid. More than half of the districts have twice the state’s average rate of ELLs.
These 50 are the most underfunded under the SFRA formula. Hundreds of other districts across the state are also suffering from the impact of chronic underfunding by the Christie Administration. In response, districts have cut student services, eliminated teachers and support staff, reduced course offerings, and increased class size.
“When the Supreme Court upheld the SFRA, it expected the State to follow through on its commitment to the justices to fund the formula to ensure all students have the resources necessary for a thorough and efficient education,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “Governor Christie has repeatedly and brazenly broken that commitment to the 1.2 million children who attend our public schools. It is time for the Legislature to stand for these children and begin restoring the funding they are entitled to in the FY17 State Budget.”
To see a complete list of district underfunding in 2015-16, click here.
For more detailed state and district summaries of how New Jersey school districts have fared under the SFRA, visit ELC’s School Funding Research Page.
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