New Jersey Files for EduJobs Money, but Will All Districts Be Treated Equally?

John Mooney, Education writer | September 10, 2010 | Education
Suburban organization says some guidelines could leave a third of New Jersey's districts out in the cold

New Jersey finally took its place in line for extra federal bailout money for schools, submitting its application before yesterday’s deadline for $268 million aimed at restoring lost jobs due to state budget cuts.

But how that money will be distributed to New Jersey schools and even if all districts will benefit remains a question.

With no comment beyond a one-sentence announcement, the Christie administration said it had submitted the three-page application for the so-called EduJobs money, opting to use the state’s funding formula for distributing the money, one of two options available.

Restoring Lost Jobs

Expected to be approved, the filing of the application ended the latest stand-off between Gov. Chris Christie and the New jersey Education Association, the teachers union, which had pressed through advertising and other means for Christie to file sooner, saying potentially 3,900 lost jobs could be restored by now.

But whether those jobs will even be restored in the long run is up for debate, since the federal guidelines only say the money most go to classroom and other instructional personnel, not necessarily for posts that were laid off or vacated.

And advocates and others yesterday said there is no certainty at all whether every district will benefit, equally or not.

The Christie administration had sought federal permission to divide the money up evenly to districts, proportionate to their state cuts this year. In turn, every district would have seen the same proportion of their cuts restored.

But it appears the state ended up sticking to the two options available, and checked off the box to apply its own funding formula as used under previous federal stimulus money.

How that is defined is the question.

Final Approval

A spokesman for Christie only said that any decision on distribution will have to wait until the federal government has given its final approval, and neither his office nor the state Department of Education would release any preliminary tabulations.

That has left others guessing. Lynne Strickland, head of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, the state’s predominant suburban schools group, said she fears it will shortchange her members.

She said the 2009 stimulus money went to districts that receive so-called equalization aid from the state, meant to make up for those with high needs and less ability to pay, most of them low- or middle-income.

“If that’s the case again, there are a third of districts who won’t get any money and another third who won’t get much,” Strickland said. “I think there was an expectation that they’d all get at least some portion of it. It could be a bad surprise.”

Something for Everyone

A spokesman for the NJEA said that’s not certain. “It may be skewed a little toward the urban districts, but every district should get at least something,” said spokesman Steve Baker.

The NJEA implored the Christie administration to get the information out as fast as possible so that districts can at least start to plan for restoring positions, if not do the hiring itself.

David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center, the Newark advocacy group representing urban school children in the Abbott v. Burke school equity case, said he believes the state’s formula gives the administration several options that could end up serving different districts needs.

He said the funding formula for so-called categorical aid for special education, for instance, could be applied just as easily as that for equalization aid.

“What they have to do is make some quick decisions and get the numbers out there, even if pending federal review,” Sciarra said. “But the state’s delay in moving forward on this, it’s simply inexcusable in terms of what kids need on the ground.”