Friday, August 7, 2015

Additional Adjustment Aid: Real Money for Non-existent Students

One of the most unfair things in New Jersey's deeply unfair aid distribution is an obscure aid stream called "Additional Adjustment Aid."

Additional Adjustment Aid's calculation is very opaque but many of the districts that receive it are Interdistrict Choice districts that have lost Choice enrollment.

Interdistrict Choice is a program in which state taxpayers pay tuition for students to attend school outside of the district they live in. The formula for Choice Aid is simple:

Local Fair Share x # of Choice Students Enrolled = Choice Aid

The average Choice Aid payment is nearly $11,000 per Choice student.

Interdistrict Choice is supposed to be based on competition: if a district can't hold onto its students it is supposed to lose Choice money.

However, Chris Christie, for purely political reasons, opposes letting any district lose money, no matter how overaided it is. Thus for the 2014-2015 aid distribution he decided that Choice districts that LOST Choice students would still get the same amount of money they got the year previous with the aid being rechanneled from Choice Aid into "Additional Adjustment Aid."

Since Choice districts are paid "Additional Adjustment Aid" for students who have left it is literally taxpayer payment for non-existent students. It means that while scores of non-Choice districts have to figure out how to educate growing student populations with the same amount of money Choice districts get to figure out how to spend the same amount of money on shrinking student populations. 

This undermines the integrity of Interdistrict Choice.  If Choice districts keep their Choice money, no matter what, they have little incentive to retain their Choice students.

The Department of Education makes no announcement of this policy.  No journalist covers it.  Taxpayer groups do not protest.  The Education Law Center, supposedly the guardian of low-resource districts, does not protest the diversion of money away from the state's neediest districts.

The announcement is buried in obscure legislative documents like this from 2015-2016:

The FY 2016 recommended budget provides little increase in direct K-12 State aid to school districts, with such funding increasing by 0.07 percent ($5.2 million) Statewide to $7.96 billion. The only school districts that would receive an increase in State aid under the proposal are 83 districts that participate in the interdistrict public school choice program that are projected to serve more students in that program in the 2015- 2016 school year than in the 2014-2015 school year. All other school districts will receive the same amount of total State aid in FY 2016 as was received in FY 2015; this includes 26 school choice districts that will receive additional adjustment aid to offset a decrease in school choice aid that resulted from the districts serving fewer students in the program.

And here's the version for 2014-2015:

Most school districts will receive the same amount of adjustment aid in FY 2015 as was received in FY 2014. The one exception is for the 19 school districts that participate in the interdistrict public school choice program. The districts are projected to experience a decrease in the number of school choice students enrolling in the districts’ schools in the 2014-2015 school year, and will receive less school choice aid in FY 2015 as a result. These districts will receive an increase in adjustment aid to fully offset the decrease in school choice aid. 

Additional Adjustment Aid is the most opaque of all the aid streams. The DOE doesn't release which districts are getting the aid, nor the total amount.

However, here are a few I've found through careful digging into the State Aid Summaries:

  • The Morris School District is getting $316,000 in Additional Adjustment Aid for non-existent students.

  • Cumberland Regional $138,000 for non-existent students.

The Christie Administration is even letting Choice districts even carry over their Additional Adjustment Aid into the next year.  

  • Englewood got $497,000 in Additional Adjustment Aid for 2014-2015 and now it is getting that same amount for 2015-2016.

  • Hoboken (which is involved in every aid hoarding scheme) got $255,000 in Additional Adjustment Aid in 2014-2015 and is now keeping that money for 2015-2016.

This is especially infuriating because Englewood and Hoboken are resuming their increase in Choice students and getting even more money.  Englewood is getting another $331,380.  Hoboken is getting another $749,133.

I try not to blame Christie for everything but this is completely his unfair, irrational fault. The only mitigating circumstance that Christie has is that the NJ legislature rubberstamped this.

Again, why does this matter?  Why am I angry about other districts' "good fortune"?  It's because the state is broke and exactly 513 districts got exactly $0 in increase, often despite growing residential enrollments. When the state can only find another $2.2 million for Extraordinary Aid there is no justification for even a few million to "educate" students who are no longer in a district.

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