Top Reports: How Fair Is School Funding in NJ Compared to Other States?

John Mooney | December 27, 2018 | Education, Winter 2018
The answer, it seems, is fairer than most. Only Wyoming matches New Jersey on key criteria

top report 2018
In this series, we’re highlighting important reports of relevance to the state’s problems and future for you to read while we at NJ Spotlight are on our annual winter break.

Just how much do states fund their schools? And how fairly do they do so in terms of what the schools need and what the states can afford?

Such questions have, of course, been at the center of debate in New Jersey for decades. And, among those helping lead that debate, both in court and in the public domain — particularly as it relates to the state’s neediest schoolchildren — are
the authors of a report issued early this year.

In the seventh edition of “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card,” Bruce Baker of Rutgers University with Danielle Farrie and David Sciarra of the Education Law Center rate each state by four key criteria: funding level per pupil, distribution of funding to those with the greatest needs, a state’s overall financial capacity, and proportion of students served. The report uses 2015 data, the latest available for all 50 states.

And by the report’s count, New Jersey and its spending of $17,900 per pupil fared quite well in national comparisons. It was one of just two states — Wyoming was the other — that met all four criteria. Only a few others even came close, says one of the authors.

“New Jersey can say that it spends a reasonable amount of money overall and that funding increases [for districts] as poverty rises,” said David Sciarra. “That’s the sign of a fair system, and only a handful of states can say that,” he said.

Sciarra isn’t shying away from his advocacy for an even fairer system, and he will surely be part of the debate in the coming year concerning state aid to school districts. He said the state’s funding system eroded under former Gov. Chris Christie, and the ensuing losses need to be recouped.

The report will continue to evolve, Sciarra said, and will look more closely at how the resources are spent. This edition of the report starts that work by examining such issues as student-teacher ratios and early-childhood programs.

“We hope to take this to the next level,” Sciarra said, “by looking at how those resources are delivered throughout the state.”

Follow this link to the report card on school funding.

Follow this link for more Top Reports: Winter 2018.