NJ Issues Mandatory Report on Cost of Providing ‘Adequate’ Education

Numbers fall $1 billion short of amount of required under state’s school-aid formula

Former state Education Commissioner David Hespe
As required under the law, the Christie administration this week quietly released its financial analysis on what it takes to adequately educate a child in New Jersey, detailing the average costs for teachers, supplies, custodians — everything.

It is something of a theoretical exercise, as the analysis has little real impact on the funding of schools – at least in the near-term. While the state’s School Funding Reform Act of 2008 requires the analysis every three years as part of determining what school aid the state should pay, the state has consistently underfunded the aid formula from almost the year it was enacted.

This coming year is no exception, with Gov. Chris Christie increasing aid by just 1 percent and leaving a gap between the school-aid formula and actual aid estimated to be $1.2 billion, officials said.

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Nonetheless, the report – called the Educational Adequacy Report and released by state Education Commissioner David Hespe – is the template for determining where estimated costs now stand, even with the limited state support, and is chock full of intriguing information and data.

Like most things in state education policy these days, it also comes with its own debate, with school advocates contending its recommendations for adjusting the “adequacy costs” only further shortchange districts with the greatest needs.

The Legislature still needs to sign off on the report. But the Democratic-led Legislature rejected a similar report three years ago, also showing a vast gap between the formula and actual aid, but it did not end up changing the dollar amounts by much.

The report posted Tuesday on the department’s website — without any public announcement — is very similar to the report of three years ago. Following a pattern where Christie has resisted increased aid for the state’s urban districts as showing little benefit, the administration again seeks to decrease the extra costs – or what it calls weights — it sees going to students with special disadvantages and special needs.

The base per-student cost is $11,009 – unchanged from three years ago – and the report adds an additional sum depending on student needs. It’s an additional 46 percent – or another $5,000 — for low-income students, for example, down from the 57 percent now written into the formula.

Special-education costs are more striking. On top of the base cost, the average additional spending for a child with special needs is $17,034, according to the analysis.

Maybe most intriguing in the report, though, are the breakdowns it lists for virtually every cost borne by school districts.

A classroom teacher, without benefits, on average costs a district $68,794. The cost of a counselor is at $76,171, an elementary school principal at $128,095, and a high school principal at $139,444.

As for districtwide positions, the average costs for superintendents are down from three years ago due to the state’s ongoing salary caps, but are still notable. Districts without assistant superintendents – smaller districts, generally – average $146,504 in salary for superintendents; those with assistant superintendents average $182,280, despite a cap of $175,000 for most of them.