Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Chris Christie's Total Incoherence on School Aid

When Chris Christie ran for governor state aid was on his agenda. Christie's agenda then was that the Abbotts received too much aid and that more money should go to middle class districts. Christie rightfully denounced the excesses of Asbury Park's state aid, but also criticized Newark's less excessive package.

When Christie became governor in January 2010 the state was in budgetary freefall and federal stimulus money was exhausted. Like many other governors, Christie slashed school aid, cutting over $1 billion.

Although the cuts themselves may have been necessary, Christie made the cuts in an extremely unfair way, cutting the equivalent of 4.9% of every district's budget, if it was underaided or overaided, under Adequacy or above Adequacy, poor or middle class. The only exceptions were over 50 affluent districts for whom state aid was already less than 4.9% of the budget. These districts lost less than 4.9% of their budgets, but their state aid went to $0.

In 2011 Christie reluctantly accepted the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision to reinstate $500 million to the Abbotts. When the legislature tacked on a few hundred million more for non-Abbotts he accepted it.

When Christie rebuilt state aid after the bottom of the recession he followed some progressive principles and gave more money to the districts that were the most underaided and most under Adequacy.

And the governor who had come in criticizing Abbott went around to Abbott
Christie Celebrates Abbott Bucks for Long Branch.
districts to celebrate their 100% state-funded school construction. For instance, Christie celebrated Long Branch getting $27.5 million for another elementary school after the state had already spent $189 million to build four other new schools since 2002.

In 2012 Christie's Commissioner of Education, Chris Cerf, proposed cutting Adjustment Aid for districts that were above Adequacy. In 2012-13 Christie actually followed through with this and cut sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars from Adjustment Aid districts, but just for one year. Thereafter Christie even created "Additional Adjustment Aid" which disallowed any cuts. The biggest beneficiaries of "Additional Adjustment Aid" are Interdistrict Choice students that have lost Choice students. Additional Adjustment Aid is money for non-existent students.

Since 2013-14 state aid has been flat. In 2013-14 every non-Choice district gained $20 per student. In 2015-16 the aid change was $0 for non-Choice districts. For 2016-17 the increase will be $10 per student, although there is a small $36 million increase in Equalization Aid plus some extra money for Newark and Atlantic City.

Unlike the Education Law Center, I accept that SFRA cannot be fully funded, but the unfairness of the funding I cannot accept, where 200 districts are overaided while everyone else is underaided and the most underaided districts have deficits greater than $9,000 per student.

Aside from criticizing Abbott and the NJ Supreme Court, Christie has been incoherent on state aid. He's made sensible criticisms of Abbott, but he has never discussed how the real victims of Abbott are poor and working class non-Abbotts. Through his Commissioner of Education, he has the power to recommend changes to the Abbott list, but he has never done so.

Christie says "A funding formula that puts a higher value on one child over another is morally wrong and it has been economically destructive. We cannot let it continue," but if you don't put a higher "value" on children in poor towns, their schools will have inadequate resources since their towns' tax bases are inferior.  Bridgeton, Camden City, and Woodlynne have less than $2,000 in Local Fair Share per student, how can they offer decently staffed and equipped schools without superior state aid?

Christie never mentioned the most unfair things about Abbott either, such as the fact that the Abbotts get 90% of Pre-K money or that the state pays for 100% of their construction.

Anyway, Christie's state aid proposal is a joke. It's dead on arrival. Sweeney had a condemnation out in less than an hour. Prieto condemned it too, but added a hopeless call to fully fund SFRA.

I don't need to explain in detail why giving Millburn and Newark, Bridgeton and Haddonfield, Hoboken and Fairview the same $6,599 per student is wrong, but if you're curious, here's Bruce Baker of School Finance 101 doing the work I don't feel like doing.

Christie's proposal will go nowhere in the legislature, but the Framers of the NJ Constitution, in their infinite wisdom, copied the US Constitution and gave a governor the ability to thwart the will of two-thirds of a legislature.  So anything the legislature doesn't pass overwhelmingly will be dead on arrival as soon as it reaches Christie's desk.  There will thus be stalemate until NJ's new governor takes power in January 2018.

If Christie digs his heels in and vetoes the Sweeney state aid reform bill there is no hope for reform until January 2018 and at that point in the budget cycle it might be too late for the new governor to set up a fairer aid distribution for 2018-19.  If Christie blocks aid reform than the soonest we might get relief is 2019-20.

No comments:

Post a Comment