Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New Jersey's Lowest and Highest Spending Districts 2015-16

This post is about New Jersey's lowest and highest spending districts.  It is a follow-up to previous posts I've written about New Jersey's most overaided and underaided districts, richest districts, and its most overtaxed.

The source of these data is the 2016 Taxpayer Guide to Education Spending and the data are for the 2015-16 school year.

The DOE produces two measures of spending, Total Spending Per Pupil which includes things like pensions, FICA, and debt service, and Total Comparative Cost Per Pupil, which only includes direct district expenditures.  I use Total Comparative Cost Per Pupil because it includes only factors that a district has under its direct control.

The DOE formats its data very confusingly, so I've created a public table of per student spending in Google Spreadsheets for you to refer to and evaluate.

The Lowest Spending

First, many of New Jersey's lowest spending "districts" are actually charter schools.

Six NJ charter schools spend less than $8,000 per student, with the Vineland Charter School at the bottom, with $7,435 in per student spending, barely half of the state median.

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There is always a lot of overheated argument around charter schools and their funding.  When the argument is between charter school spending versus host district spending and why charters almost always spend less, talented researchers/writers like Mark Webber and Julia Sass Rubin that charter enrollment is non-representative and that charters educate a less challenging population than their host districts.  Furthermore, many charters educate children younger than high school, so lower spending is expected since younger children require fewer services.  Finally, charters also do not provide some services that host districts provide, like transportation.  These factors combine to justify the lower spending levels that charters have compared to their host districts.

HOWEVER, it must be noted that even if a charter school has less challenging and younger students, spending levels at the $8,000 per student level are WAY below Adequacy. Even if a charter school were 0% FRL-eligible, spending $7400 per student is is inadequate.

For regular public schools, the thirty lowest spending districts are the following:

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These are all non-Abbotts and nearly all of them have high-FRL eligibility. Fairview only spends $10,288 per student, or 29% below the state's median, even though Fairview is 77% FRL-eligible and 14% LEP.

(Given how four of the lowest spending districts are in Vincent Prieto's legislative district (East Newark, Fairview, Edgewater, and Guttenberg are part of Prieto's District 32), Prieto's indifference to school finance is incomprehensible to me.)

The lowest spending Abbott is West New York (also in District 32), which spends $14,263 per student. That is slightly below the state's median and is significantly below Adequacy given West New York's demographics (about 80% FRL eligible).  However, West New York's spending is still $4,000 per student above Fairview's. Moreover, West New York's deficit is due to undertaxing and underaiding equally, so state culpability is no higher than local culpability.

The lowest spending districts are a mixture of undertaxers and overtaxers, but every single one of them is underaided.

The Highest Spenders

FYI: The following are the highest spending school districts:

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It is difficult to generalize about the highest spenders.  Some are very wealthy, some have had significant population loss, some are tax tolerant, and a few get massive state aid or some combination of the previous four factors.

Notice however, that large conventionally affluent districts like Millburn, Princeton, and Livingston are not among the highest spenders.

Non-Abbotts Need Help

Helping the lowest spending districts requires a combination of new revenue and redistribution, but what will not help them is another Abbott lawsuit, as the Education Law Center has threatened.  For perverse legal reasons, non-Abbotts including Fairview, have "no standing" in the eyes of the New Jersey Supreme Court.  If the state were forced to pay another $500 million to the Abbotts the money would have to come from other districts (either directly through or indirectly through flat aid) and the prospect of new money for these crisis districts would recede.

(At the risk to alienating my anti-charter readers, many charter schools across New Jersey need help too.)

The Education Law Center and New Jersey Supreme Court have a staggering immunity to common sense, but if we do everything we can to inject into the public discourse that the 31 Abbotts are NOT New Jersey's 31 poorest districts and certainly not the 31 lowest spending, then maybe there's some hope for the least fortunate in New Jersey.


Please, if you want to help underaided districts, please sign this state aid petition from Our Fair Share!

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