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10-30-15 GSCS-NJSBA Legislative Panel at Fall Workshop - School Funding Getting Attention

Press of Atlantic City - Educators, legislators work to un-freeze school funding  ‘…Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, said she believes legislators do want to make changes this year, but she wonders whether after so long, the state might need a new funding formula. The last formula was approved in January 2008… [Senate President] Sweeney said it is also time to review the status of the 31 Abbott urban districts, since some have improved, and some are spending above adequacy. Other speakers spoke about the impact of the 2 percent cap on costs they often can’t control, including special education and tuition… Tax abatements also were criticized for taking money away from school districts…’

Diane D’Amico, Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2015 7:57 pm

SCHOOL SPENDING

The following local districts are spending above or below the state ‘adequacy’ calculation. A statewide list of all districts by county is online with this story at www.pressofac.com.

ATLANTIC COUNTY

Under adequacy: Absecon, Atlantic City, Atlantic County Vocational, Buena Regional, Egg Harbor City, Egg Harbor Township, Folsom, Galloway Township, Hamilton Township, Hammonton, Mullica Township, Northfield, Port Republic, Somers Point.

Over adequacy: Brigantine, Corbin City, Estell Manor, Greater Egg Harbor Regional, Linwood, Longport, Mainland Regional, Margate, Pleasantville,Ventnor, and Weymouth Township.

CAPE MAY COUNTY

Under adequacy: Cape May, Cape May County Vocational, Lower Township, Middle Township, West Cape May.

Over adequacy: Avalon, Cape May Point, Dennis Township, Lower Cape May Regional, North Wildwood, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Stone Harbor, Upper Township, West Wildwood, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, Woodbine.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY

Under adequacy: Bridgeton, Commercial Township, Cumberland County Vocational, Cumberland Regional, Deerfield Township, Downe Township, Fairfield Township, Hopewell Township, Lawrence Township, Maurice River Township, Millville, Upper Deerfield Township, Vineland

Over adequacy: Greenwich Township, Hopewell Township-Shiloh, Stow Creek Township.

SOUTHERN OCEAN COUNTY

Under adequacy: Barnegat Township, Lacey Township, Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County Vocational, Tuckerton

Over adequacy: Beach Haven, Eagleswood Township, Long Beach Island, Ocean Township, Pinelands Regional, Southern Regional, Stafford Township.

Source: New Jersey Department of Education

ATLANTIC CITY — After five years of frozen funding, this could be the year the state Legislature at least tries to reallocate state aid to schools.

Whether that is good news will depend on whether a district is growing or shrinking, and whether it is spending above or below what the state Department of Education says is adequate for a basic education.

 

At the New Jersey School Boards Association annual conference this week, Education Commissioner David Hespe and a group of state legislators said they are discussing how to balance the growing inequities in state school aid distribution.

 

That is good news to Egg Harbor Township school board members Pete Castellano and Justin Riggs.

 

“Egg Harbor Township is the poster child for severe chronic underfunding,” Castellano told the panel, noting that the district is spending at least $8 million below what the state considers adequate.

 

State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, cited Atlantic City as a district that made drastic budget cuts this year because of the dramatic decline in the city’s tax base.

 

“Even Egg Harbor Township gets more aid than Atlantic City,” Whelan said. But he said a continued lack of state funds could limit how much help underfunded districts could get without taking money from other districts.

 

“As the saying goes, there may be more will than wallet,” he said.

 

State Department of Education calculations show it would take an extra $1 billion to fully fund the school aid formula this year. The state currently provides about $8.5 billion in direct aid to schools. Almost every district in the state would get additional funding.

 

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, said conversations have already begun, but he said not everyone will be happy with changes.

 

“There are some districts that get more money than they are entitled to,” he said “We are going to have pretty serious discussions and a lot of people won’t like it.”

 

On Tuesday, Hespe told school board members that he is concerned about the growing number of districts that are spending below what the state considers adequate. He said those are the districts where he will focus as the budget is prepared early next year.

 

Data provided by the state Department of Education shows that in the 2015-16 school year, 14 districts are spending below adequacy in Atlantic County, five in Cape May County, 13 in Cumberland County and 14 in Ocean County. Statewide, 305 districts are spending above adequacy and 286 are below adequacy.

 

Joy Nixon, school business administrator in rural Weymouth Township, which currently spends above adequacy, said they have lost some enrollment, which drives up their per-student spending figure. But, she said, fixed costs have not gone down proportionally — and in fact keep going up.

 

“Losing state aid would hurt,” she said.

 

Sweeney said it is also time to review the status of the the 31 Abbott urban districts, since some have improved, and some are spending above adequacy. Locally, Pleasantville is now spending above adequacy, while Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland are not.

 

Other speakers spoke about the impact of the 2 percent cap on costs they often can’t control, including special education and tuition to other districts or private schools for the disabled. Tax abatements also were criticized for taking money away from school districts.

 

Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, said she believes legislators do want to make changes this year, but she wonders whether after so long, the state might need a new funding formula. The last formula was approved in January 2008.

 

Sweeney said 37 percent of the state budget already goes to cover state aid to school districts and other school-related costs, so just saying “add more money” is not a long-term viable solution.

 

“How much more state aid can go to just one area of state government?” he said.

 

Contact: 609-272-7241 DDamico@pressofac.com  Twitter @ACPressDamico

 

NJ Spotlight - Stagnant State Funding Remains Overriding Concern for New Jersey SchoolsEducation commissioner calls for dialogue between state and districts, but offers scant hope for increased aid  ‘…Hespe acknowledged that state aid has been pretty much stuck at level funding since 2011, following a steep cut in state aid, and not much will change going into 2016.“The impact of a frozen formula is pretty severe,” Hespe said. “And devoting enough dollars to unfreeze the formula is probably not going to be a possibility.” … ‘Michael Vrancik, the chief lobbyist for the state school boards association, said …that a time of reckoning is clearly on the horizon. “I think everyone is aware of the fact that the method of funding needs to be examined,” Vrancik said in an interview. “There is the potential for big swings for individual districts, but we need to know who they are. It is high time to move to the next level and have some real public discussions.”

 

John Mooney | October 30, 2015

 

The inaugural year of new online tests in New Jersey schools is getting much of the attention on the education front these days.

But it’s a long-running and familiar story that may have more lasting impact: State school aid has essentially been frozen for five years – and a thaw seems unlikely anytime soon.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe this week gave some of his first comments to date on the status of school funding going into the next budget season, and it was hardly encouraging for districts.

Speaking to school board members and administrators recently at their annual conference in Atlantic City, Hespe acknowledged that state aid has been pretty much stuck at level funding since 2011, following a steep cut in state aid, and not much will change going into 2016.

“The impact of a frozen formula is pretty severe,” Hespe said. “And devoting enough dollars to unfreeze the formula is probably not going to be a possibility.”

He reiterated the administration’s assertion that the state’s actual contribution to education overall is at an all-time high, topping $12.7 billion this year – amounting to nearly 40 percent of the state’s overall budget.

But virtually all of that growth has been in pension and other direct costs, and state aid for schools has barely risen at all in five years after it was cut by $1 billion in fiscal 2011. Most schools are still getting less from the state than they did before Gov. Chris Christie took office, according to legislative staff analysis.

In his talk on Tuesday, Hespe said he hoped state officials and school leaders will start talking about state funding now, rather than waiting until the new year – when the die will already have been cast with the announcement of the governor’s budget plan, including district-by-district aid.

“Everybody in this room should engage on this topic,” Hespe said. “There are difficult decisions to be made and, without your input, we’ll probably end up making the wrong ones.”

While the state cannot meet its obligations under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), according to Hespe, he acknowledged that some districts are suffering more than others, including districts with fast-rising enrollments or with spending below so-called “adequacy” level.

Hespe is supposed to present his annual finance report to the state Legislature this fall. His office said yesterday that it is still in the works but will be filed.

The commissioner has hinted that some short-term changes will be needed to address school funding. On Tuesday, he said it may start with providing at least some extra help to the neediest districts. But that would likely mean funding losses for other districts in what is becoming a zero-sum game, at least for the foreseeable future.

Hespe, in a brief interview, said he would like to run the SFRA formula at some level for fiscal 2016 to try to even out the widest disparities.

“We may not be able to do that,” he said. “But I’d like to have these conversations in October, and normally when they start in February, it’s too late.”

He acknowledged that as some districts see increases, others may have to lose aid.

“That is really the bottom line in these conversations,” he said. “These are all conversations we need to be having, and I would rather start them now than in February.”

The timing comes with political – and legal -- implications.

The politics includes a governor running for president, with his next state budget coinciding with the first Republican primaries. What’s more, Democrats and Republicans alike – including some in the Legislature -- are gearing up for New Jersey’s gubernatorial election in 2017.

Underfunding rural school districts cost them preschool programs, and much more, suit asserts

The legal implications include the long-running Abbott v. Burke litigation that requires the state to keep up its funding for its neediest urban schools, including the four school districts under at least partial state control.

In addition, a second case now in the appellate court – Bacon v. N.J. Department of Education -- seeks to address finances in some of the state’s neediest rural districts.

Michael Vrancik, the chief lobbyist for the state school boards association, said after Tuesday’s talk by Hespe that a time of reckoning is clearly on the horizon.

“I think everyone is aware of the fact that the method of funding needs to be examined,” Vrancik said in an interview. “There is the potential for big swings for individual districts, but we need to know who they are. It is high time to move to the next level and have some real public discussions.”


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828



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