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School-Aid Formula Numbers Released by State Add Up to $1 Billion Funding Shortfall

Notices sent to districts bolster those who accuse Christie administration of ignoring legal mandate

20dollar-bills money

It probably won’t add another penny to their budgets, but New Jersey school districts yesterday finally learned from the Christie administration exactly how much state aid they would have received if the state’s school-finance formula was fully funded.

Faced with a legal challenge, the state Department of Education released the dollar amounts school districts are entitled under the six-year-old School Funding Reform Act.

The overall gap between that figure and what the districts actually have received is vast, with districts coming up nearly $1 billion short of what they are entitled under the formula. According to the state’s analysis, districts would be entitled to more than $8.9 billion under SFRA, compared to the $7.9 billion proposed in Gov. Chris Christie’s budget for fiscal 2015.

All but 25 of the state’s 580-plus districts would see increases under a fully-funded SFRA, according to the state’s release.

The numbers aren’t much of a surprise. The SFRA hasn’t been fully funded since the first year of the law, which dates back to former Gov. Jon Corzine.

But the administration’s release of the figures once again puts it on the defensive, especially since Christie has been trumpeting record-high state funding for schools.

While the claim is true, three quarters of the state’s school districts still are getting less aid than they did before Christie took office.

The release of the aid numbers came in the face of pressure from a legal complaint filed by the Education Law Center, the Newark-based group that has led the state’s Abbott v. Burke school-equity litigation.

Two months ago, the ELC filed a state Supreme Court motion contending that the administration, in allotting state aid for fiscal 2015, had not even run the funding formula approved by the court this year.

In the budget proposed by Christie, every district was to receive aid amounting to an additional $20 per pupil, regardless of need. In contrast, the SFRA is based on the specific needs of each district

"The aid notices issued today confirm what every public school parent and educator knows: Gov. Christie has decided not to follow the law and provide our public schools with the essential resources students need to be successful," said David Sciarra, the ELC’s executive director.

"Our legal action has forced the Governor to disclose the full extent of his failure to properly fund schools across the state," Mr. Sciarra said. "The Legislature now has the formula calculations required to evaluate the Governor's inadequate proposal and to formulate a final budget that better responds to the needs of our students and schools."

How much it will change the aid allocation to districts is, at best, uncertain, as new pressures on the state budget are only adding to the constraints. Christie and his administration have acknowledged in the last week that they expect a $800 million shortfall in state revenues.

Sciarra last night said it was unclear whether the latest full-funding notices would fully resolve the ELC’s legal challenge before the state Supreme Court.

“We're reviewing whether information released today complies with formula statute and Abbott rulings,” he said.

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