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2-24-12 State Aid in the News
Gannett-Asbury Park Press - State aid cuts hit low-income areas, help suburbs… “But Lynne Strickland, who represents some 100 suburban school districts through the Garden State Coalition of Schools, praised the new figures.“There’s recognition that this has been a long time coming, and we’re glad for it,” Strickland said. “Suburbs have been left to free fall … we need the help, too.”

The Record - Bergen County schools due state aid under plan … “It really does look like the governor has recognized the suburbs have been left out of the loop for quite a while in state aid, and they need it,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. “It’s been a long time coming but we’re glad it’s showing up now.”

Star Ledger - Christie education funding plan would base allocations partly on districts' enrollment

NJ Spotlight - Winners and Losers for School Aid…Complicated formula hits some NJ cities hard while suburban schools see gains “…“Seeing not only the plus column next to our members, but also the echo of an improved aid picture for the suburbs in the future feels good,” read an email from Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, a group of more than 100 suburban districts. “It has been a long time…”

Asbury Park Press­-Gannett - State aid cuts hit low-income areas, help suburbs… “But Lynne Strickland, who represents some 200 suburban school districts through the Garden State Coalition of Schools, praised the new figures.“There’s recognition that this has been a long time coming, and we’re glad for it,” Strickland said. “Suburbs have been left to free fall … we need the help, too.”

9:32 PM, Feb. 23, 2012 | Written by Jason Method Statehouse bureau

COMING SUNDAY -  How school aid affects your district, including a town-by-town analysis.More

TRENTON — State school aid figures unveiled late Thursday showed that Gov. Chris Christie’s administration plans to take money away from urban and low-income school districts and provide additional funds to suburban areas.

Camden City, for example, is set to lose $5.5 million compared to last year’s aid, under formulas that would be adjusted by the state Department of Education. Asbury Park would receive $2.4 million less than last year. Still, Camden would get $276 million and Asbury Park, $55.2 million.

Meanwhile, the Freehold Regional district in Monmouth County would be the big winner in the state, with $3.4 million more, for a total of $51.2 million. Cherry Hill is slated to get $12.7 million, up $1.4 million over last year.

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said the changes were necessary to better equalize educational funding and help foster better schools in low-income areas.

“These recommendations, along with the new policy aspects, will serve disadvantaged children in the state better than they’ve ever been served before,” Cerf said. “We are all living in a universe where we’ve been led to believe that you equate effectiveness with dollars. I don’t think the evidence supports that at all.”

The state Legislature will review the proposal as part of the budget process.

School aid and property taxes have been the most contentious issues in the state for nearly two decades. Under a series of state Supreme Court decisions, regularly criticized by Christie, 31 low-income school districts received the majority of state funds for years.

Under a new school funding formula adopted in 2008 under Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine, districts received more money if they had low-income or disabled students, or students with limited English speaking abilities, for example.

Districts which had experienced enrollment drops — often in cities — also received extra funding to keep them from suffering sharp state aid cuts.

Cerf, in a press teleconference yesterday, said the state was making a series of changes to the aid formulas and even coming up with a new way to count enrollment based on average attendance throughout the year instead of one a single day.

A look at the data makes clear the impact of the shift. Many of the school districts covered under the state Supreme Court rulings stand to lose funds. In addition to Camden and Asbury Park, Pemberton would lose $2.4 million, Vineland would get $1.2 million less, and Keansburg’s aid would be off $1.1 million.

Most of the loss for Camden and Asbury Park results from a cut in the aid meant to protect districts from enrollment declines, a spokesman said.

Cerf said he intended to phase out that aid over a five-year period. “It is unmoored to educational adequacy or need,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Brunswick would benefit from $1.7 million more, Lenape Regional in Burlington County would get another $1.4 million.

To justify the pending changes, the state released an 83-page report that detailed the reasons why the school aid formulas needed to change.

Cerf in particular took aim at enrollment counts that come from a single day in October.

“We want districts to have more of an incentive than to have a pizza party on Oct. 15,” Cerf said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of instructional hours at issue for here for children who are on the rosters but don’t come to school.”

The changes were immediately assailed by David Sciarra, an advocacy lawyer who has successfully sued the state several times to provide more money for low-income school districts.

“These are changes that are not in the best interest of children all across the state,” said Sciarra, who heads the Newark-based Education Law Center. “There will be less funding to support at-risk students, no matter your zip code.… It is a significant reduction in funding for those students, and there’s no way to support it.”

But Lynne Strickland, who represents some 200 suburban school districts through the Garden State Coalition of Schools, praised the new figures.

“There’s recognition that this has been a long time coming, and we’re glad for it,” Strickland said. “Suburbs have been left to free fall … we need the help, too.”

Money for towns

In addition to school aid, the state released municipal aid figures late Wednesday. Municipalities were held to the same amount of state aid they had the year before, but some cities were expected again to see a yet unspecified cut in so-called transitional aid.

A state spokeswoman said Asbury Park would “not have to apply” for that extra aid in the next year or two.

Asbury Park will get $10.38 million in additional aid for distressed cities, for a total of $17.87 million, which also comes with additional financial oversight, said Terrence Reidy, city business administrator.

“Asbury did fine,” Reidy said. “What New Jersey is looking to do is to help urban centers with economic issues become more stable.”

To be eligible for the additional aid, Asbury Park officials had to sign a memorandum of understanding, which comes with a rigorous set of guidelines, he said.

“They require us to go far beyond the tool box (of best practices for municipal government) to increase our revenues and decrease our costs,” Reidy said. “We have a fiscal monitor that reviews every request.”

If a municipal worker retires or leaves, city officials have to make a case why a new employees is needed to replace them, he said.

“In several cases we didn’t fill the positions of public workers director and supervisor,” Reidy said. “I combined public works and engineering and didn’t fill the positions, which resulted in close to $200,000 in savings. It’s a very rigorous process which I’m fine with.”

For Red Bank, the news that state aid was unchanged from the slightly more than $2 million received in 2011 was good news to Colleen Lapp, chief financial officer.

“It wasn’t a cut so we can’t be disappointed,” Lapp said. “It’s the best you can hope for in this economy.”

Freehold Township also will receive flat funding for the third straight year. Peter R. Valesi, township administrator, said the state funding for his municipality has dipped from a high of $10.5 million in 2007 to the current level of $7.4 million.

Valesi said residents can expect a property tax increase this year but there won’t be any layoffs or cuts in services.

“The township is at critical mass,” he said, noting that the municipality eliminated 60 positions through attrition and layoffs since 2008. “We just can’t do the job township residents expect us to do with any less.”

Valesi said the Township Committee will adhere to the state-imposed 2-percent cap on a tax levy increase, but he’s not yet sure how the committee will craft the 2012 budget. “It’s going to be another challenging year,” he said.

The state granted Lacey $11.27 million in municipal aid, the highest amount given to any town in Ocean County but the same amount as last year.

“It’s good news in the fact that they didn’t decrease me,” said township Business Administrator Veronica Laureigh. “I was anticipating that they were going to give us a cut.”

Toms River Business Administrator Paul Shives had mixed feelings about the news that aid for his township would stay at $8.49 million.

“It’s better than a cut,” said Shives. But “if you look back to 2009, that number was about $10.3 million.”

The loss of about $2 million annually “forced us to do a whole host of things,” he said. “We have not cut service, but we have had to go back to all of our unions and negotiate furlough days and wage freezes over the last three years. It has had an impact.”

Lakewood will receive $5.1 million. Michael Muscillo, municipal manager, said he was relieved the state aid numbers were the same as last year. More would have been better but getting less would have put the township in a tough spot, Muscillo said.

“We are running a lean operation, very lean,” Muscillo said. “We are doing more with less like everyone else.”

“We can work with the current aid numbers and township employees should not have to be concerned about pay freezes or layoffs” this year, said Township Committeeman Albert Akerman.

William G. Dressel Jr., director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said he hoped the Legislature would reallocate receipts from specific energy taxes back to the municipalities, as was originally intended.

Jason Method: (609) 292-5158, jmethod@njpressmedia.com

 

The Record - Bergen County schools due state aid under plan “It really does look like the governor has recognized the suburbs have been left out of the loop for quite a while in state aid, and they need it,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. “It’s been a long time coming but we’re glad it’s showing up now.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012 Last Updated: Thursday February 23, 2012, 10:01 Pm  By Leslie Brody Staff Writer

 

Bergen County public schools would see state aid jump by 9 percent under a Christie administration plan that boosts payments to several affluent counties but keeps funding roughly flat for counties such as Passaic that have large, struggling cities.

Under the proposal announced Thursday — which includes several changes in the way New Jersey pays for schools — Bergen County would get $206 million in state aid, up $17 million from the current year. Passaic County would get $728 million in aid, up $5 million.

Somerset and Morris counties would see the largest increases in the state, both over 9 percent. State-wide 90 percent of school districts would get more aid per pupil.

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said the aid changes reflected a move back toward the state’s 2008 funding formula: wealthier districts lost all aid, or huge portions of it, in cuts announced two years ago, so they stood to regain a higher percentage.

“It’s not the case that anybody sat around and said let’s send more to wealthy Republican districts and less to poor districts or Democratic districts,” he said.

The state’s funding formula gives extra aid to districts according to their enrollment of children who are poor or limited in English proficiency. Cerf proposed slightly reducing the additional dollars attached to the count of these at-risk children.

School funding has been a contentious issue for decades in New Jersey, with more than 20 rounds of protracted litigation over how to ensure poor urban children have fair access to decent educations. It’s an issue closely tied to the property tax problem; paying for public education is typically the biggest component of local tax bills. Direct funding for local education accounts for about a third of the state budget, with most aid going to cities where local property taxes don’t raise enough money to support schools’ needs.

Thursday’s announcement portends more contentious debate on how the state pays for public education, with advocates for disadvantaged children jumping to say the administration’s changes were unfair and should not stand.

“This recommendation has to be rejected,” said David Sciarra, attorney for the Education Law Center, which has repeatedly fought these legal battles. He said lawmakers “will not allow the formula to go through this radical change that will have a negative impact on poor children wherever they live.”

The biggest loser was Camden, the state’s poorest city where aid decreased $5.5 million, to $276 million — a decrease of $394 per student. An Education Department spokesman said Camden lost that aid mostly because it got much more than the funding law calculated was necessary to provide an adequate education for students with its characteristics.

Some districts lost aid due to enrollment declines.

Representatives of suburban schools expressed delight, however.   

“It really does look like the governor has recognized the suburbs have been left out of the loop for quite a while in state aid, and they need it,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. “It’s been a long time coming but we’re glad it’s showing up now.”

Lawsuits on behalf of poor children in the state’s 31 cities, known as former Abbott districts, led to the 2008 funding law. Last spring the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the Christie administration to send $447 additional dollars to those cities, saying the governor’s budget cuts had hurt their ability to provide adequate educations.

Governor Christie announced a budget Tuesday that boosts so-called “formula aid” to districts by $121 million, to $7.8 billion, for the coming fiscal year. He is asking the Legislature to approve a $32.1 billion state budget that spends more on schools and some social services while cutting taxes on incomes and businesses.

Cerf said his proposed formula changes were reflected in the new budget, which must be negotiated with the Legislature and passed by July 1. He said that even with the proposed tweaks, New Jersey is one of the most generous funders of at-risk students and the level of extra aid provided for these children was determined by an expert panel before the 2008 funding law was passed.

Sciarra, of the Education Law Center, countered that Cerf was using recommendations of an outdated panel whose conclusions had been rejected by lawmakers.

Former Abbott districts such as Passaic, Paterson and Garfield would receive 0.55 percent less in state aid than last year, but they still would see significantly more money than other districts, the governor’s office said. These cities would get an average of $15,415 per pupil next year, compared with $3,223 for the others.

State officials want another important change in the aid calculation. Funding now is allocated by how many students are enrolled in schools on Oct. 15. That would change to “average daily attendance,” Cerf said, giving schools more incentive to make sure kids aren’t truant.

The base aid amount for children with disabilities would also rise slightly.

The administration also proposed phasing out inappropriate uses of so-called adjustment aid, which the funding law created to give extra help to districts that spend below a certain threshold, and to make sure other districts avoided losing aid during transitions between changes in funding methods.

Superintendents had been eagerly awaiting the new aid figures, which came out late Thursday afternoon.

In Bogota, Superintendent Letizia Pantoliano said she was “pleasantly” surprised by a 7 percent aid boost, to almost $5.6 million, that would let her keep six teachers hired with federal stimulus money, and also keep her budget within the 2 percent cap on property tax increases. “I thought that there would be some increase but this exceeded expectations,” she said.

In Bergenfield, Superintendent Michael Kuchar said he was grateful for an 8 percent aid boost, to $10.4 million. He joked that he went to church two days in a row this week. “I pray for all the good that can happen for the kid under my care,” he said, “and if that includes increases in state funding, so be it.”

There was confusion in Passaic, where Superintendent Robert Holster said he was told his district would be getting an increase. The data released by the Education Department showed his district getting a $1.1 million cut, to roughly $225 million. He was hoping for tens of millions in additional aid, which would let him give art, music and guidance services to all students, instead of only to some of them.

“If I see a check in the mail [for extra aid] I’ll feel quite excited about changes we can make,” he said. “If not, we have some major challenges ahead of us.”

On Wednesday, the Department of Community Affairs released state aid amounts for each town in New Jersey, essentially holding aid flat for most towns, including all in Bergen and Passaic counties. Like school aid, municipal aid also is used to help offset or ease the burden created by property taxes, which is the primary source of revenue for New Jersey’s 566 municipalities.

Email: brody@northjersey.com

NJ Spotlight - Winners and Losers for School Aid…Complicated formula hits some NJ cities hard while suburban schools see gains “…“Seeing not only the plus column next to our members, but also the echo of an improved aid picture for the suburbs in the future feels good,” read an email from Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, a group of more than 100 suburban districts. “It has been a long time…”

By John Mooney, February 24, 2012 in Education|

The first details are out in Gov. Chris Christie’s trumpeted increase in state aid for New Jersey public schools next year, showing a much more complicated picture that will mean big increases for some schools but sharp cuts for others.

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Released late yesterday by Christie’s office, the state aid figures for each district under the governor’s $32.1 billion budget are, at first look, short on clear patterns. Some of the state’s larger urban districts will be hit the hardest in actual dollars, with Camden for instance losing $5.5 million (2 percent) and East Orange $2.9 million (1.7 percent).

But it’s not universal: Newark loses a relatively small $600,000 out of a nearly $1 billion budget, and Jersey City is actually slated to get a single dollar more.

Other districts seeing significant cuts include such places as Winslow ($896,000), Hopatcong ($764,000) and Monmouth Regional ($482,000). In all, 95 districts will see some reductions, from 13 percent down to miniscule dips.

But that is just the losers, a small minority in a budget where four out of five districts will see at least some increases. They are going more to the suburbs, but they include a wide range as well, including blue-collar places like Bayonne ($2.8 million increase) and the top dollar winner, Freehold Regional ($3.2 million).

“We see this as a good news budget for an overwhelming number of districts,” said acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

Much of it comes back to the complexities of the state’s aid formula under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), one that Christie has long lambasted as too generous for so-called failing districts in cities like Newark and Camden. He has all but ignored it the last two years, making steep across-the-board cuts two years ago and then increases last year, much of them by order of the court in the latest Abbott v. Burke decision.

But somewhat ironically, Christie is closely following at least SFRA’s core principles in this budget, albeit with some significant and sure to be controversial changes that Cerf said would be phased in over five years.

The SFRA formula enacted by former Gov. Jon Corzine and approved by the state Supreme Court bases state aid on a complicated computation that determines a model range for spending and allots a certain amount of money per student, depending on their needs and the local district’s ability to pay.

Those different weights for different needs are critical to the math, as is how the students are counted in the first place. Cerf is making changes in both those methods that would appear to provide less help than previously to districts with higher concentrations of poor or disadvantaged students.

For instance, low-income students who formerly would get as much as 57 percent more in per pupil aid would see that reduced to 46 percent under Cerf’s plan. Some estimated that alone could cost $1,000 less per child in aid.

Cerf is also proposing changing how students are counted, moving away from a single annual count on Oct. 15 to a rolling average student attendance rate. Again, that could hurt urban districts where attendance can be much more problematic.

Cerf doesn’t deny the changes will have significant impact in some districts, saying he hopes they will put more focus on how the money is spent rather than how much is spent.

“I’m trying to disentangle us from the idea that money buys us achievement gains,” he said in an interview.

He outlined much of his philosophy and some of the math in a 83-page document to the legislature called the Education Funding Report, a report required under SFRA to look at possible adjustments in the formula over time.

It is heavy on Cerf’s view on needed reforms in schools, including teacher effectiveness and school “turnaround” strategies. With charts and graphs, he repeatedly makes the argument that additional spending has not led to increased achievement results.

At one point, he even raises the questions if all at-risk students as measured by eligibility for federal free-lunch dollars must necessarily be presumed to be educationally disadvantaged, or whether there is a better way to measure it. (He doesn’t answer the question, instead only recommending a task force to study it.)

Cerf also made significant changes in how the state distributes what is called “adjustment aid,” a $570 million account this year to more than 150 districts that was meant to cushion any cuts.

Under the fiscal 2013 budget, that will come down to $555 million, with more reductions to come. For districts getting adjustment aid and spending more than the SFRA says is adequate, the amount would be steadily reduced to half the current total over five years, Cerf said.

That hits some of the urban districts hard, but also those in more rural areas that either spend more than deemed adequate or are seeing enrollment drops, or both. They include scores of districts in Sussex, Cape May and Burlington counties, some where the adjustment aid is as much as half of their overall aid.

Interestingly, the first negative reaction to the aid figures came from Republican legislators representing those districts, quickly putting out a press release late yesterday decrying the cuts in Sussex, Warren and Morris counties.

“This is exactly why we need a new funding formula that is balanced and accountable,” said state Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sussex). “Dozens of our local school districts are now among about 185 suburban and rural districts shortchanged from receiving basic aid, leaving them faced with potential increases in already too costly property taxes.”

The criticism also came from those representing urban school children, too, but for different reasons. They said the adjustments in the weights will only hurt schools serving at-risk students. The report will go next to the state legislature, which must approve the weight adjustments.

“By lowering the weights, you are shortchanging these kids,” said David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center, which has led the Abbott v. Burke litigation. “These are radical changes that need to be rejected.”

Still, it’s a more mixed reaction among those who stand to gain, at least for this year. The reaction was one of relief, if not applause, from the representatives of suburban districts that have long felt shortchanged by the state’s funding.

“Seeing not only the plus column next to our members, but also the echo of an improved aid picture for the suburbs in the future feels good,” read an email from Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, a group of more than 100 suburban districts. “It has been a long time.”

The superintendent of Piscataway, a district that would gain $1.2 million in this budget, said he was more cautious than optimistic. Piscataway is among the districts that is well below the model for spending and would stand to gain the most if and when SFRA is fully funded.

But it also lost $5 million two years ago under Christie’s first budget, and even with the increase this year, “we’re still a long way from the $5 million we lost,” said Robert Copeland, the Piscataway superintendent.

Copeland also had his questions about some of the computations, worried the reduced weights for at-risk students could hurt his district in the end. He echoed others who said the numbers analysis had only just begun, with much of it sure to be debated in the coming weeks and months as the state Legislature reviews the entire budget.

“Like everyone else, we still want to be able to check the math,” Copeland said.

 

Star Ledger - Christie education funding plan would base allocations partly on districts' enrollment

Published: Friday, February 24, 2012, 7:00 AM   By Star-Ledger StaffThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie Thursday unveiled sweeping plans to change the way the state’s schools are funded by reducing the amount of money allocated to at-risk kids; tying funds more closely to the number of students in classrooms each day; and cutting funds for districts where enrollment is declining.

Christie also released district-by-district state aid figures for the coming year that incorporate the changes. This means a loss of state aid for 97 of the state’s roughly 600 school districts.

Among those losing aid are 36 districts with declining enrollment — some, like Newark, where charter schools have cut significantly into the "regular" district population.

The Christie administration hopes to use these changes to shrink the "achievement gap" between poor and wealthy students.

"While money certainly matters, there is no evidence money alone will close the achievement gap," said acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

The Newark-based Education Law Center, an education advocacy group that successfully argued to the state Supreme Court for increased school funding for poor districts, said the proposal would "roll back the clock" and negatively affect the state’s most at-risk students.

David Sciarra, executive director of the center, said the changes would affect poor students in all types of districts — suburban and urban, traditional public districts and charter schools.

Sciarra said he will ask the Legislature to reject the proposal and modify Christie’s proposed $8.87 billion school budget, so that schools continue to receive funding under the current formula.

He said many of the changes Christie proposed — such as tying funding to average daily attendance, instead of a once-a-year enrollment count each Oct. 15 — would require legislative change.

"This is really bad news in terms of providing funding for poor students regardless of zip code, regardless of community," Sciarra said.

While Sciarra could not provide an overall estimate of what it would cost to reinstate funding, he said the difference between funding for at-risk students under the old formula, and Christie’s proposal, is roughly $1,000 per student. The changes are spelled out in an 83-page "Education Funding Report" released late Thursday afternoon by Cerf.

Phillipsburg Superintendent Mark Miller said his district will face a $911,000 aid cut. He said many of the proposed changes would hurt struggling districts like his.

"Kids who are economically disadvantaged , you need to help them out, you need to get them into school, you need to educate them," he said.

Among other things, Cerf recommends the governor convene a task force to explore the way at-risk students are counted and whether poor students should be "presumed to be educationally at-risk."

Currently districts are given up to 57 percent more for a child considered "at-risk" because of low family income. Christie aims to reduce that to as little as 42 percent, noting that other states like Vermont and Texas are as low as 25 percent.

Christie also proposes setting aside $50 million for bonuses to districts that adopt his education reforms, boost student achievement and work to close the achievement gap between wealthy and poor students. Districts would be compelled to compete for the money much like states competed for funds in the federal Race to the Top competition, which awarded millions to states based on their education reform proposals.

The governor’s proposal aims to give districts a financial incentive to focus on student attendance. Currently the state bases aid payments to districts on an enrollment count conducted annually. Instead, Christie wants to determine enrollment based on average daily attendance.

"We want to count enrollment based on attendance and moving to that system makes a tremendous amount of sense," Cerf said. "It gives kids an incentive to come to school."

Many of the state’s urban districts struggle with student truancy, however, and could feel the effects of the policy shift more dramatically than suburban districts which regularly post high levels of student attendance. Average daily attendance in the state’s poorest districts is 92.9 percent, compared to an average of 96 percent in the state’s wealthiest districts.

Under the new plan, school systems with average attendance lower than 96 percent would lose funding.

The proposal also takes on a type of funding called adjustment aid, which helps districts maintain their funding levels in spite of declining enrollment and other changes to the school funding formula adopted in 2008.

Described in the report as "political currency," the aid would be cut by as much as 50 percent over the next five years if the governor’s proposed changes are adopted by the legislature.

Read the full report here.

By Jeanette Rundquist and Jessica Calefati/The Star-Ledger

 

 


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