Interdistrict Choice, to simplify, is a relatively new program where state taxpayers pay school districts to accept students who live outside that school district.
The average state payment is nearly $11,000 per Choice student, an amount far in excess of the marginal costs to a district of accepting additional students.
After three years of blistering, unlimited cost growth (from $9 million in 2010 to $49 million in 2013-14), the Christie Administration tried to freeze Interdistrict Choice and only allowed limited growth.
For 2016-17 the Christie Administration is only increasing Interdistrict Choice spending by $1.2 million, but even that small amount is enough to provide disproportionate gains to Choice districts.
The following districts are all of the districts in New Jersey that are gaining more than $80 per student. (NJ's median increase is $19 per student.)
Please notice how many are gaining most of their aid primarily through Interdistrict Choice.
|Click to enlarge.|
Or, to put it in table format.
Please also notice that these big gainers are only rarely among the most underaided in New Jersey and seven of them in fact got more money than SFRA says they economically and demographically need! (and remember, SFRA's funding targets are extremely high for any district where a majority of students are at-risk.)
|District||Total Per Student Increase for 2016-17||2015-16 Underaiding or Overaiding Relative to Uncapped Aid||Choice Aid Percentage of Total Increase||Host District Aid Percentage of Total Increase||Note||Aid Per Student in 2015-16|
|WEST CAPE MAY BORO||$1,880||-$601||99%||NA||Choice||$7,816|
|PLAINFIELD CITY||$272||-$4,106||NA||66%||Abbott/Host District||$12,668|
|WILDWOOD CREST BORO||$162||$721||88%||NA||Choice||$2,352|
|LOWER CAPE MAY REG.||$161||$4,607||94%||NA||Choice||$7,174|
|ATLANTIC CITY||$151||-$4,526||NA (lost Choice Aid)||81%||Choice (but lost Choice money)||$2,635|
|PORT REPUBLIC CITY||$149||-$275||72%||NA||Choice||$5,598|
|MINE HILL TWP||$131||-$2,409||71%||NA||Choice||$5,455|
|SOUTH HARRISON TWP||$128||-$704||58%||NA||Choice||$4,139|
|NEW BRUNSWICK||$118||-$4,056||NA||15%||Abbott/Host District (is among NJ's most rapidly growing districts)||$12,805|
|MANCHESTER REG||$115||-$10,737||51%||NA||Choice (but most underaided district in NJ)||$7,271|
|WEST NEW YORK||$99||-$3,197||0%||NA||Abbott||$12,207|
|PINE HILL BORO||$98||-$2,818||19%||NA||Choice||$9,959|
|EGG HARBOR CITY||$86||-$2,453||NA||NA||$10,791|
|NORTH HANOVER TWP||$85||-$3,108||NA||NA||$10,722|
|PENNS GRV-CARNEY'S PT REG||$84||-$4,059||NA||NA||$10,394|
|MEDIAN NJ DISTRICT||$19|
Notice who isn't on the list: FREEHOLD BORO, New Jersey's most stricken and overcrowded district. Freehold Boro is only gaining $100,770, or $58 per student.
NJ's other most underaided districts are doing similarly badly. Fairview is getting $59 per student. Guttenberg is getting $49 per student. Manville is getting $37 per student. Lodi is getting $41 per student. Bound Brook, with a -$9,176 deficit the most underaided for 2016-17, is getting another $59 per student. East Newark is doing comparatively well, getting another $74 per student.
Granted, some of the Interdistrict Choice districts are severely underaided too, including Manchester Regional, New Jersey's most underaided district for 2015-16.
It's good Manchester Regional is getting additional state aid through Interdistrict Choice, but Manchester Regional is the exception that proves the rule. Manchester Regional is only able to accept Choice students because so many North Haledon children do not attend Manchester Regional. Most other underaided districts, like Freehold Boro, have bad crowding problems and could not participate in Interdistrict Choice even if they wanted to.
However, for almost all of these underaided Choice districts, including Manchester Regional, the gain from new Interdistrict Choice money exceeds their gains from other aids. If it weren't for Interdistrict Choice money, Manchester Regional would only gain $56 per student.
West Cape May: The Biggest Aid Thief of 2016-17
Newark might be getting the most new money in absolute terms for 2016-17, but West Cape May is getting the biggest increase in dollars per student: an unbelievable gain of $1880 per student. (over $100,000 for a district the DOE considers to have 65 students (See how Professional Community Development Aid is $650. $650 = 65 students)
What is West Cape May that makes it so worthy?
It is a microdistrict with 97 students on roll and $2,555,658 in Local Fair Share, or $26,346 per student.
When West Cape May has so much wealth and conditions in the rest of New Jersey are so desperate, the State should be trying to ease aid out of West Cape May, not funnel more into it.
Deal Steals Again
Deal has a phenomenally high tax base: $17.2 million in Local Fair Share for 176 students (counting Choice students), or $97,800 per student.
Like Hoboken, Allenhurst, Alpine and a few other ultra-high resource districts, Deal has no need for any state aid. Given its minute size, Deal should not even be an independent district.
And yet because of Interdistrict Choice Deal will gain another $17,000 in Choice Aid next year, bringing Deal's total aid up to $2.1 million. The $17,000 might not sound like a lot, but when the state can only find $100,000 for Freehold Boro and when Deal is so rich and already aided at $10,700 per student , Deal's $17,000 is unacceptable.
Host District Support Aid (ie, Bucks for Charters)
The other class of districts getting big gains in aid per pupil are districts getting money from Chris Christie's new "Host District Support Aid."
Host District Support Aid is concentrated in Newark. Of the $26 million the state is distributing through this new aid stream, Newark is getting $22 million.
Plainfield, Irvington, New Brunswick, and Atlantic City are the only other districts in NJ to get over $100,000 through Host District Support Aid. Several districts with high charter transfers, such as Paterson ($34.6 mil in charter transfers), Trenton ($35 mil), Camden ($57 mil), Jersey City ($58 mil) are getting nothing.
Host District Support Aid is pass-through money for charters. The children in the traditional Newark Public Schools will not directly benefit from this money. The creation of Host District Support aid is more a sign of Newark/charter political power than Chris Christie fairly and consistently responding to a school funding problem.
The increase in aid for the Newark Public Schools is $4.7 million, or $92 per student.
Another Unfair Year
The real culprit of underaiding is New Jersey's stagnant economy and need to increase pension and debt payments, however, the problem isn't only the pitiful amount of new aid, it's how the new aid is distributed.
The Christie Administration only increased Equalization Aid by $19 million. from $6,070,003,740 to $6,088,956,541)
That $19 million was all there was available to help NJ's most acutely underaided districts.
For 2016-17, the 199 overaided districts got $567,773,913 more than SFRA said they demographically and economically needed. If Chris Christie had been willing to redistribute only 10% of this money (~$57 million) and had not created the $10 per student Professional Development Aid (~$11 million) it would have made possible an increase of $68 million for Equalization Aid - more than three times more than was actually made available.
Helping the Needless: New Jersey's Richest Districts and Their State Aid