Brick schools superintendent explains broken NJ school aid system
There are winners and losers in Gov. Murphy's 2024 school aid funding plan. The winners are the schools in poorer neighborhoods, and the losers are pretty much those in the middle class where people are working two and three jobs to stay afloat.
Why is that? Middle-class districts cannot pull from the pots that a lot of the lower districts can because they do not qualify for as much money as English Language Learners, special ed., or Title I, because their numbers are not high enough.
On top of that, the state has capped the amount that you can raise taxes at 2%, which leaves the districts in a vulnerable position of where to get money as their aid gets cut, and they cannot meet adequacy financially.
They have had to become creative, and it hurts the students and families they serve.
They have had to raise class size, use pay-to-play for once-free activities, and cut other things completely out.
Yet some of the districts that receive money seem to have an overabundance.
This formula is outdated and needs to be fixed for the good of all, not just some. Also, the state aid law needs to be re-adjusted. It was calculated way too long ago to be relevant today. We are not in the same place financially as we were 13 years ago. Inflation has risen well above the 1.5% that it was in 2010.
Tom Farrell is the Brick Township schools superintendent. His district is $9.4 million dollars under the funding level needed to provide students with a thorough and efficient education, as required by state law. He wrote a white paper on school funding, and spoke to me on New Jersey 101.5.
The state of New Jersey's full funding formula is flawed. It's unfair, and it's not equitable; and more important than that, there's a paradox and a contradiction in the way the formula is delivered and implemented. And unfortunately, many districts find out the hard way.
In New Jersey, about two dozen districts are way below adequacy, and do not meet what's called an 'adequate budget.'
They start by getting a baseline, an adequacy budget. And that's basically the constitutional T and E, a thorough and efficient budget, for every student in every district.
And they say, 'Here's your baseline,' and then they say, 'let's figure out how to pay for it.' And come up with a formula for what your local community's fair share is. And depending on where that comes from, they have a couple of forms of aid to bridge the gap.
Unfortunately, for districts, like Brick, Toms River; there's probably a half a dozen just in Ocean County that are way below adequacy. And as of 2018, with Senate Bill Two which revised the formula, we have no mechanism to get our budget to adequacy.
So this year, Brick schools are about 9.4 million under adequacy, next year will be 23 million. That's 23 million below what the state says should be provided a teeny education for brick students, which is just unfair. And it would take us years to get to adequacy. And again, no mechanism was provided by the state to get there.
What can be done to fix it?
I'm kind of a researcher, and I'm a lifelong learner. I learned by teaching myself and doing the research, and I started about a month and a half ago. So you know, I'm gonna use some of my own academic skills and do some research and put something together, that's a little easier to understand than what a business administrator or the State Department of Ed finance group will tell you.
And each time I did it, it was like peeling back an onion and finding out more and more about the process. But the start was to create that white paper to create an article that's a condensed version of that, to get some op-eds out there and to get this paper and this research into as many people's hands as we can so that people know that this is not equitable, and unfair. And we got to do something about it.
Brick's were the lowest cost for pupils in the state, maybe third lowest at 15,500. So even if you take enrollment out of it, when you have districts that are not getting cut and getting state aid that is paying up to 42,000 per student, and Brick's paying 15,500 per student, there's an inequity there. Because if we talk about all students in the state of New Jersey being treated fairly, well then that's what's not happening.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise only. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.
How much your school district gets under Murphy's proposed 2024 budget
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