Gov. Chris Christie’s election-year state aid package for New Jersey’s public schools looks like it has a little bit for almost everyone — or at least not any less for anyone.
The state Department of Education yesterday put out the breakdown of $8.7 billion in proposed state school aid for fiscal 2014, and the numbers lived up to Christie’s message of austerity.
While the overall increase statewide was 1 percent, only about 300 districts were seeing any increases of note at all, according to the figures. That’s fewer than the 378 districts Christie cited in his budget address on Tuesday. The difference: more than 70 districts will get a bump of less than $100; 40 are scheduled to get a single dollar more.
There’s no single explanation for how the aid was determined for all 580 districts. The governing factor was the state’s complex funding formula, which differs for each district.
For instance, the biggest dollar increases were actually in some of the urban districts that Christie has been prone to criticize, like Camden and Elizabeth. All but two of the urban districts falling under the Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings received at least some additional money.
Meanwhile, many of the state’s cash-strapped middle-income districts also got something extra, thanks to a new funding stream for those spending at least 10 percent below the level that the state defines through its formula as being “adequate” for each district. More than 130 districts qualify for the new funding.
Statewide, 30 districts saw double-digit percentage increases, although not for the same reasons. Many of the increases were due to the state’s interdistrict choice program, in which outside students help fill empty seats.
The tiny Beach Haven district saw a threefold increase in aid, but virtually all of the $60,000 was earmarked for interdistrict choice.
Still, with some well-to-do districts getting a little something, too, and none seeing cuts, many school leaders seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
“Looks flat here, which I have been conditioned to be grateful for,” said James Crisfield, superintendent of Millburn schools, which saw no increase at all on its $1.9 million aid from the state.
It was a message that the Christie administration wanted to get out there, especially when others are facing a more dire future. The state also announced next year’s municipal aid figures: There were no increases and no cuts.
“New Jersey ranks in the top three in the country with its per-pupil spending on public education, and this year’s proposed budget continues that trend,” said state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf in announcing the aid figures.
“But it takes more than money to provide an effective education, and we will continue to focus on ways to support our educators, districts and schools in order to ensure all of our students receive a high-quality education that prepares them for the expectations of college and careers in the 21st century.”
Others weren’t giving up hope that there could be at least a little more money through the Legislative review of the budget in the coming months.
“Overall, people are relieved that funding is stabilized with flat funding at the very least, and increases for districts, such as those that are at 10 percent or more under adequacy is important,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.
“Being that is an election year as well, we are optimistic these aid levels will not be lessened and may even be increased under the legislative process with the Appropriations Act for FY14,” she added.