Sunday, October 18, 2015

How Much Would It Costs to Abbottize the Bacon Districts?

The Bacon districts are 16 mostly poor, mostly southern New Jersey districts that are suing the state to gain the same privileges that the Abbott districts have.

The Bacon lawsuit began in 1997.   Originally the plaintiffs were represented by independent attorneys, but now the Bacon districts are represented by the Education Law Center, of Abbott fame/notoriety.

The ELC summarizes the Bacon case this way:

Bacon v. NJ Department of Education is a long-running case involving 16 poor, rural districts, many of them located in the southern portion of the state. Since 1997, these districts have demanded adequate resources to meet the needs of student populations characterized by intense poverty, high mobility rates and other challenges associated with high needs schools.  In 2008, the Appellate Court affirmed a State Board of Education determination that the Bacon districts were unable to provide a thorough and efficient education for their students under the current school funding formula. After introduction of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), also in 2008, the NJ Department of Education determined that the new school aid formula would provide the Bacon districts with the resources they required. The SFRA would also entitle these districts to the high quality Abbott preschool program for all three- and four-year-olds. 
Initially, the Bacon districts received increased funding under the SFRA, but massive underfunding of the formula eliminated these increases. In addition, preschool expansion under the SFRA was never implemented. As a result, the districts determined that further action was necessary and sent a letter to the NJ Attorney General in July 2014, demanding full SFRA funding and implementation of high quality preschool.

I follow the Bacon case in newspapers and the ELC's website, but something I've seldom seen is how much it would cost New Jersey to Abbottize the Bacon districts.

The Bacon districts are not as property-poor as the Abbotts nor are their students. The Bacons often already receive substantial aid (four are overaided), and except for Lakewood they are small, so the costs of Abbottizing the Bacons would not be a fiscal earthquake, and yet with New Jersey on its fiscal deathbed, neither are the costs affordable.

K-12 Aid

Actual AidCapped AidUncapped AidDeficit/Surplus
Hammonton Township$15,273,362$18,308,153$29,605,068-$14,331,706
Upper Deerfield$6,282,322$7,538,786$8,377,929-$2,095,607
Egg Harbor City$5,201,112$6,241,334$6,326,938-$1,125,826

Buena Regional
Maurice River$4,719,314$5,320,583$5,320,583-$601,269
Little Egg Harbor$9,677,667$10,132,008$6,734,744$2,942,923
Ocean Township$6,934,480$7,549,135$1,233,928$5,700,552
Sum for Deficit districts-$51,025,767

The sixteen Bacons already receive $139,572,915.  Their capped aid is $158,131,380, so bringing the Bacons up to their capped aid would be $18.6 million more than New Jersey is already giving to the Bacons.

To bring the Bacons up to their uncapped aid would cost an additional $51,025,767.  The cost could be a few million less if the state were allowed to reduce aid to the overaided Bacons (Ocean Township, Little Egg Harbor, Woodbine, and Lakehurst), but allowing any reductions is unlikely.


The other major cost of Abbottizing the Bacons would be offering state-funded Pre-K to all three and four year old children living there.

Unfortunately this cost is a little harder for me to assess since I have not been able to find out exactly how many three and four year olds live in the Bacons.

The best approach I could think of was to count the number of kindergarteners in each district and then assume that the number of kids in the three and four year old cohorts would be similar.

Using the School Performance Reports, I counted 1793 kindergarteners in the sixteen Bacon districts. If there are about 3,586 three and four year olds, then, at $13,500 per average child, the total Pre-K costs for the Bacon districts would be $48.4 million.

Most of the Bacon districts already have small Pre-K programs and already pull in $10.6 million in Pre-K money. If the existing $10.6 million offsets the full $48.4 million than the net increase to the state would be $37.8 million.

Construction Costs

The Abbott districts also get the state to pay for their construction costs through the Schools Development Authority.

For 2015-16 debt service on SDA bonds is $840 million. Most of that is for Abbott districts, but not all of it is.

I am not going to get out of my depth and give an estimate for what capital projects in the Bacon districts would cost.


Bringing the Bacon districts up to their full, uncapped SFRA aid would cost an additional $51 million. Establishing universal Pre-K would cost about an additional $37.8 million.

The total additional costs to the state could thus be about $90 million.

That's barely 1% of the total $8.6 billion Pre-K and K-12 aid stream. Normally a 1% cost increase isn't enough to bankrupt an entity, but New Jersey already is bankrupt.

$90 million might not sound like a lot of money for the a large state like New Jersey, but remember, state aid has had virtually no growth at all from 2013-2014 to 2015-2016 and we are going to have deeper cuts in the future as the Pension Crisis deepens.

There are also unknown implications for the Abbotts if the Bacon districts got their full, uncapped aid.

Right now about half of the Abbotts are underaided, so if the Bacons won their full, uncapped SFRA aid they would have out-Abbotted the Abbotts.

Newark's deficit is $131 million. Paterson's is $68 million. Elizabeth's is $63.9 million. Union City, Plainfield, and New Brunswick are in the high $30 million range. If the Bacon districts got full SFRA funding for the courts wouldn't the Abbotts have the same right?

Regardless of any implications for the Abbotts, when you consider that the Bacons are not New Jersey's poorest districts at all and are certainly not the most underaided, a pro-Bacon judgment would be very bad news indeed.

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