Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Diane D'Amico Covers the Unfairness of Christie's "Flat Aid" Policies

Kudos to Diane D'Amico the Press of Atlantic City for good coverage of what Christie and the NJ legislature are doing with state aid.  Diane D'Amico, New Jersey's best state aid reporter, realizes that Christie's policy of not allowing any district to lose a cent of aid might initially sound benign, but it hurts districts that have growing enrollments and/or shrinking property bases and thereby exacerbates economic gaps between school districts.  

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Egg Harbor Township, once among the fastest-growing municipalities in the state.  But state education funding has never kept up with enrollment, which increased almost 35 percent, to nearly 8,000 students, between 2000 and 2007.Casino closings have led to enrollment dipping to 7,600 students, but new affordable-housing mandates could again bring in more families.The School Reform Funding Act of 2008 [SFRA] promised a more equitable distribution of funds based on student needs. It fell victim to the recession and has been replaced by a largely 'flat funding' model that seems to treat everyone equally but actually benefits shrinking districts while penalizing those with growing enrollment or need.

Many districts in New Jersey have had student population growth but Egg Harbor Township's growth is well above average.  Aside from the sheer increase in student population, Egg Harbor Township's students are becoming poorer and this create new challenges for the school district.

Almost half of all students in the district are eligible for the federal free-lunch program, up from less than 30 percent a decade ago. More than 700 properties within the school district are in some stage of foreclosure.
Indeed, Egg Harbor Township only gets 58% of its uncapped aid.  It should be getting $28.7 million more than it is, a $3941 per student deficit.

The biggest problem in state aid is the Pension Crisis and the state's inability to increase overall K-12 spending.  However, Chris Christie has some leeway to redistribute money away from districts like Hoboken and Jersey City but he has chosen not to in favor of a policy that lets him brag about how his model "ensures that no district will receive less state aid than the amount received for FY2015." The Christie DOE is oblivious to the fact that in per pupil terms and per assessed wealth terms numerous districts "receive less aid than the amount received for FY2015."

Chris Christie deserves most of the blame for this, but not all of the blame.  No one in the legislature aggressively calls to end flat funding and explains how this hurts districts like Egg Harbor Township. The New Jersey School Boards Association, supposedly the representative of all districts, and Education Law Center, supposedly the representative of low-resource districts, have supported Christie's policy of not allowing any district to lose aid.   The Corzine-era School Funding Reform Act itself strenuously tries to prevent any district from losing aid.  Christie fails as New Jersey's head of government, but the true fault belongs to the entire Establishment.

Again, kudos to Diane D'Amico for covering this.  I especially liked the Lynne Strickland quote she used to end the piece:

“The formula is hitting the fan. We have to start having the discussion of how to get out of this ever-deepening hole.”
I just hope that someone is listening.

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