Despite all the rhetoric about a win for public education, the budget agreement between Gov. Phil Murphy and Democratic lawmakers to start fully funding the state’s school finance formula is a half-full, half-empty proposition.
On one hand, the deal’s net increase for the coming year is more than $350 million on a nearly $8.5 billion state aid tab, hiking aid to more than 370 districts, some of which have been badly shortchanged for years. State aid represents close to half of all school spending in the state, so that’s a significant bump.
The half-empty part — or, maybe, it’s closer to a third empty — is that 170 other districts will take a hit, some of them severely. On average, these districts will lose $170,000 this coming year, the rough equivalent of two teachers, and that number will only rise in coming years as the agreement “redistributes” aid from these schools.
The numbers were formalized on Friday with the announcement of the final state aid figures for each district in 2018-19, ranging from the tripling of aid to Chesterfield in Burlington County ($1.5 million increase) to the 30 percent cut for Bloomsbury in Hunterdon County ($500,000 drop).
There were few surprises, with the numbers largely matching the estimates circulated earlier this month by the Senate Majority office, as developed by the Legislature’s Office of Legislative Services.
The changes have been in the offing for months, as Murphy and legislators danced around how to tweak and “modernize” the long-suffering School Funding Reform Act. The 2008 law is a complicated array of formulations that weighs what a district needs programmatically and what it can afford to pay for locally. The difference between those two is the state’s responsibility, and the unfunded part of that amount has only grown since the law was enacted.
Still, schools had set their budgets in the spring based on the governor’s initial proposals — which he made in February. The new numbers will require some fresh calculations concerning staffing and programs for the next school year.
For some, the budget shifts will be sizable. In dollar amounts, the two extremes are actually the state’s two largest districts: Newark will see a $37.5 million increase in state aid, and Jersey City a $3.5 million cut.
More than 80 districts will see an increase in aid of more than a $1 million. Seven will see more than $1 million in cuts.
to see the changes in all school districts’ funding.
“A stronger, fairer New Jersey means making sure that New Jersey’s schools are receiving the funds they need to advance academic excellence for our students,” Murphy said in the announcement about changes in the funding.
“After years of neglect, we are turning the page to bring a balanced approach to school aid,” he said.