Letters to the Editor

Correcting the Record on NJ School Funding

8628214d9ac1c7994e60_elc.jpg
8628214d9ac1c7994e60_elc.jpg

 

Several weeks ago, New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf gave a "State of the Schools" presentation to local superintendents and educators. Among the areas covered by Commissioner Cerf was the level of funding and spending levels in NJ's low wealth, high poverty districts.

Commissioner Cerf offered a pointed critique of the public schools newly identified as "priority" and "focus" schools, located predominately in high poverty districts. Priority and focus schools are, according to the NJ Department of Education, "low performing" and "failing" based on "new" accountability metrics, primarily standardized test scores. These schools are now targeted for as yet unspecified "interventions" that may include State-ordered closure or "takeover" by national charter management organizations.

Sign Up for E-News

In sharp contrast, the Department has also created a new classification of high performing schools, called "reward" schools. Reward schools are primarily in high wealth, low poverty districts.

In addition to criticizing the performance of districts with priority and focus schools, Commissioner Cerf also presented data showing that spending in these schools exceeds the statewide average, suggesting that funding is not an important issue. The Commissioner's comparison of funding levels between these highest need districts and the statewide average is both misleading and unfair.

What the Commissioner's critique ignores is the dramatic demographic differences between these districts and the rest of the state. The districts with priority and focus schools have dramatically higher levels of poverty, many more students learning English, and high student mobility. These characteristics require additional resources in order to deliver the extra services the students in these schools need to succeed. To compare the funding levels of these extremely high need districts to a state average where such characteristics are far less prevalent is deceptive.

The Commissioner also fails to mention that New Jersey's school funding formula enacted in 2008 - the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) - is based on the accepted principle that students have needs that require more resources to give them the chance to meet State academic standards. The SFRA formula provides additional funding for poor (at-risk) students, limited English proficient (LEP) students, and students with disabilities. These extra funds are calculated as a percentage of the base student cost and called a "weight," and each district's budget is funded based on its "weighted student enrollment."

Thus, to fairly compare spending among NJ districts, per pupil funding amounts should use the SFRA "weighted student enrollment" so that per pupil figures are comparing "apples to apples" to the greatest degree possible.

Using the SFRA funding per weighted pupil measure results in a vastly different picture than what Commissioner Cerf presents in his "State of the Schools." The Commissioner portrays spending in districts where the majority of priority and focus schools are located - Newark, Camden, Paterson, Trenton, Elizabeth, and Jersey City - as dramatically higher than the state average. However, if the district funding levels are adjusted for student need, funding in these districts ranges from $9,307 to $10,956 per pupil, not very different from the state average of $10,315.

In fact, the average spending levels of the high poverty districts with priority ($10,488 ) and focus schools ($10,123) are lower than the largely low poverty districts with reward schools ($11,414).

So let's set the record straight about NJ school spending. While high poverty districts receive more funding under the SFRA formula, they do so to address the intense concentration of need among the students they have to serve. This is exactly what an equitable system of school finance should do. It's time for Commissioner Cerf, as the State's chief education officer, to get these facts straight.

 

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Paterson

City Council Candidate to Voters: Let Your Voice Be Heard

February 20, 2018

Dear Editor:

It is very important for the citizens of Paterson to participate in local city-wide elections because elected officials can help determine the economic, educational and social well-being of entire communities. For example, two very important tasks of city council members include making laws and allocating money.

Elected officials are the gatekeepers for millions of dollars in ...

Dreams for Service Dog for Autistic Montville Resident Become Reality

February 22, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ - Faith Stanley, a Towaco resident and a single mother of four boys, sought help for her youngest son, Joey, who is almost three years old and diagnosed with autism. Amazingly enough, Faith found the help she needed!

Due to the generosity and help of so many people, Faith has managed to reach her goal of raising ...

Paterson Hosts Statewide Event as National El Sistema Leader

February 22, 2018

PATERSON—On March 10, nearly 300 students from seven New Jersey immersive ensemble music learning programs will converge in Paterson for the 4th annual Fiddlefest and Falala Festival. A day of music making and a celebration of culture and community for both the students and their families, the festival features the Paterson-based program Paterson Music Project (PMP), in addition to the New ...

How to Talk with Kids About the Florida Shooting

February 15, 2018

The tragedy of the Florida school shooting is devastating, leaving 17 killed and 15 injured. Our children can easily identify with what occurred yesterday. It will be the topic of conversation today in schools everywhere. School administrators are doing all they can to provide support and guidance. The shootings affect children, teachers, and school personnel. The school shooting ...