Friday, May 12, 2017

Star-Ledger Editorial Praises Sweeney's Plan

The Star-Ledger's editorial board has written an editorial praising Steve Sweeney's plan for a fairer, most just state aid distribution.

The editorial gets a lot of things right about the problems of SFRA and our state aid distribution and is a sign of how far the state's media has come in understanding what our problems are:

The fundamental problem is this: We're still locked into an outdated school funding formula that awards districts state aid based on what they looked like years ago, before their real estate booms or big enrollment fluctuations.... 
Hudson County has been a big winner in that political brawl. The state basically awards aid to Jersey City and Hoboken as if they never experienced an economic boom. The idea was to protect these districts from cuts for a few years, to help them adjust. But the temporary fix has become permanent. So Jersey City is getting $114 million in extra aid [this is misleading], while other districts are shortchanged. 
The big losers are districts that have seen enrollment growth. That's because the Legislature fiddled with the formula again by imposing state-aid caps that ignore big changes in enrollment. Bayonne is now being shortchanged by $53 million, mostly because of its increased enrollment. 
In South Jersey, Kingsway has seen enrollment explode by 1200 students, while Washington Township has lost an equal number. Yet the state aid is allotted as if those changes didn't occur. What sense does that make? 
That's especially damaging in districts that have seen big influxes of Latino students who don't speak English, like Freehold and Dover. They are underfunded, and face the added cost of teaching these students English. 
Prieto's plan does nothing to address these hard inequities. Instead, he's taking the easy way out, to avoid rankling anyone: Arguing that we should distribute $125 million among all the underfunded districts [this is wrong], a one-year band aid that doesn't address the core unfairness of our system.

I'm very happy to see the Star-Ledger write this, but it gets several things wrong.  (I know that pointing this out doesn't win my any friends on the SL editorial board)

1. Adjustment Aid was always included in SFRA from the day it passed in January 2008, well before the Supreme Court conclusively reviewed the constitutionality of SFRA in 2009. In fact, in the Abbott XX decision the NJ Supreme Court (obliquely) praised Adjustment Aid.

This is a reference to Adjustment Aid written into the Abbott XX decision:

"we cannot ignore,as a practical matter, the substantial amount of additional funds that will be available from non-SFRA sources for pupils in Abbott districts. The availability of those funds further cushions the transition to SFRA’s funding scheme. In sum, although no prediction is without some uncertainty, the record 8 before us convincingly demonstrates that SFRA is designed to provide school districts in this state, including the Abbott school districts, with adequate resources to provide the necessary educational programs consistent with state standards."

2. Jersey City's nominal Adjustment Aid is only $114 million, but that is because the formula has been frozen since 2013.

If the formula were re-run, Jersey City's Adjustment Aid would actually be $159.9 million, due to the boom in its Local Fair Share.

Conversely, the Adjustment Aid that Newark and Atlantic City get is fictitious and would be converted to Equalization Aid if the SFRA formula were operating.

3. Prieto's "plan" is only for $100 million for K-12. The other $25 million is for PreK.

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