REPORT: School Funding in New Jersey: A Fair Future for All
November 17, 2020 – School funding in New Jersey is not as fair or adequate as it was prior to the Great Recession, according to a new report released today by New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). This endangers the future of public education in the state, especially as public schools brace for an unprecedented recession from COVID-19.
“There is no way that New Jersey recovers from this pandemic and the economic crisis it caused without healthy schools – and that means schools have all the resources they need to educate children who have been through the worst medical emergency this country has seen in a century,” said Mark Weber, Ph.D., report co-author and Special Analyst for Education Policy at NJPP. “New Jersey can’t afford to wait until the pandemic is over. We’ve got to plan for a school system that can adapt to any crisis, prepare students for the jobs of the future, and produce well-informed citizens capable of critical thinking. That begins with rethinking how we fund schools.”
The report, School Funding in New Jersey: A Fair Future for All, evaluates school funding fairness and effectiveness in the Garden State under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). The report finds that, since the Great Recession, New Jersey has decreased its share of economic capacity allocated to elementary and secondary school funding.
Before the Great Recession, New Jersey was spending over 4 percent of aggregate personal income on K-12 education. By 2018, our new equilibrium is around 3.7 percent. New Jersey’s high-poverty districts have suffered the greatest consequences of these reductions.
“While New Jersey was once a national leader in progressive school funding policy, it is no longer,” said Bruce Baker, Ed.D., report co-author and Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. “As of 2018, New Jersey’s highest poverty school districts have fallen back behind the state’s wealthier districts on per pupil spending, putting New Jersey back to where it was in the mid-1990s.”
From 2010 to 2019, an increasing number of school districts have experienced significant gaps between their current spending and spending levels identified as “adequate” under SFRA.
By 2019, more than 100,000 children attended school districts which fell more than $5,000 per pupil below targets established as adequate under SFRA. One of the more consistent features of these districts is that they tend to serve large Latinx student populations: On average, these districts are 63 percent Latinx, while districts which spend above their adequacy targets are 16 percent Latinx.
“It’s particularly disturbing to see how many Black and Latinx children are enrolled in schools that aren’t receiving what the state’s own law says they should,” added Mark Weber. “Children deserve adequately funded schools, no matter who they are or where they live.”
The report concludes with twelve recommendations for New Jersey lawmakers to improve school funding, including: pressing for more federal aid for schools, raising additional revenue from the state’s wealthiest residents, maintaining and enhancing the features of SFRA that makes school funding progressive, and pooling property taxes from commercial and industrial properties and redistributing them statewide.
New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) is a nonpartisan think tank that drives policy change to advance economic, social, and racial justice through evidence-based, independent research, analysis, and advocacy.
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