Federal dollars fund less than 3 percent of the average New Jersey public school budget, but large cuts to federal education aid would still hurt districts, devastating some.
Last May, the administration of President Donald Trump proposed a 14 percent cut in education funding, which would give more than $9 billion less to schools on all levels. One major reduction would halve the federal work-study program that helps college students pay their tuition bills. Most of the rest of the cuts would impact K-12 public schools: Medicaid, teacher training and class-size reduction, after-school services, literacy, and career and technical education.
How much of those cuts Congress is willing to embrace is unclear. So far, the House Appropriations Committee endorsed just a quarter of Trump’s proposal, with most of the cuts in federal Title II grants for teacher training and to help reduce class size. Neither the full House nor the Senate has voted on an education budget yet.
Some 95 percent of New Jersey public school districts got $42.4 million in Title II funds last year, according to an analysis of data from the NJ Department of Education’s User Friendly Budgets. That represents about 7 percent of the nearly $642 million districts got in federal aid.
Role federal aid plays
Districts rely far more on local property taxes and state aid to run their schools, but a loss of any federal money would mean cuts to programs, hikes in property taxes, or the need for increased state aid.
For some districts, federal money makes up a very small percent of total revenues. For instance, federal dollars funded less than one-half of 1 percent of the total budget in such small elementary districts as Stone Harbor and Avalon in Cape May. Other districts rely more heavily on federal aid: It represented more than $1 of every $10 budgeted in Freehold in Monmouth County and Lakewood in Ocean County. In Lakewood, $24.2 million in federal funds accounted for almost 20 percent of the district’s operating budget of $128 million. They weren’t the only districts that saw significant federal money, as eight other districts got more than $10 million from the federal government last year, with Newark’s $34.5 million leading the pack.
For a district like Lakewood that receives significant amounts of money from the federal government, the loss of those grants would be financially devastating. Were the district to lose all of its federal aid, and local property-tax payers had to make that up, the school portion of the property-tax bill would have to increase by roughly 25 percent. That is not likely to happen, though.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, federal money comes to the state DOE and is allocated to districts either according to formulas for the entitlement grants based on various factors outlined in the law or as discretionary grants distributed for programs the department designates, said DOE spokesman David Saenz Jr. New Jersey’s 2018 fiscal year entitlement totals almost $482 million for Titles I through IV.
The bulk of that — $337 million — would come through Title I, which is meant to help low-income and at-risk children meet academic standards. The Title II allocation is about $46 million. Nearly $20 million would be distributed under Title III, which supports English language programs for students with limited English proficiency. Almost $9 million would be given under Title IV to support school improvement and innovation, with most districts slated to get $10,000 each.
Any cuts made by Congress to federal education aid programs would reduce the amounts state and districts get.
Districts have two other sources of significant federal dollars. Last year, according to the analysis of local budgets, districts got about $300 million for the IDEA-B program that funds special education classes. They also got $25.4 million in Medicaid funds, which provide speech therapy and screenings for special-education and low-income students,
It’s unclear when both houses of Congress will vote on education budgets, but the new federal fiscal year begins October 1.