Equity Funding New Jersey

Julia Sass Rubin: Governor Christie’s Dishonest and Unfair Funding Plan

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Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey unveiled a new funding plan, which he claims is “fair.” The essence of his plan that all children in the state would get exactly the same dollar amount–$6,599–, and that is fair! So, whether you are a child in a wealthy district or a child in an impoverished district, you will get the same! Isn’t that fair? Well, not really. That’s like saying the rich and the poor are equally permitted to sleep under bridges.

Julia Sass Rubin of Rutgers University explains why Chris Christie’s plan is a hoax and a swindle. It is not just because giving exactly the same amount to children in rich and poor districts is divisive and harms those with the greatest needs, but because so much of the budget is already earmarked that there is not enough to divvy up fairly.

Although numerous commentators pointed out the devastating impact that Christie’s proposal would have on children who live in communities with high rates of poverty, none actually verified the governor’s claim that dividing state aid equally among all New Jersey students would result in $6,599 per pupil funding.

Had they done so, they would have found that the $6,599 per pupil figure, and the promises of property tax reductions predicated on it, are both false.

There simply is not a $9.1 billion state education budget available to distribute across New Jersey while also protecting special education funding and charter schools.

State special education funding alone accounts for almost a billion dollars. And state funding pays for less than a third of all special education expenses. So if the governor distributed state aid evenly, he would eliminate the ability of many districts to provide special education services as their local tax base is inadequate to fund the additional costs.

Then there’s the state funding Christie would need to set aside to protect charter schools. In 2015-16, charter schools received in excess of $600 million in funding, primarily in the form of state aid pass-throughs from high poverty districts. And charter school funding is growing rapidly as the Christie administration increases the number of charter school students.

The governor’s numbers also ignore other programs he is unlikely to cut, such as pre-school funding and choice aid.

Eliminating state pre-school funding would remove another $656 million from the funds Christie could distribute to all districts. Cutting the funding would not only be bad public policy, it also would jeopardize federal preschool funds New Jersey currently receives.

The $54 million in choice aid funds the popular Interdistrict Public School Choice program that the governor supports and that benefits many small, rural districts.

There are many other examples.

When all is factored in, the actual amount that the governor’s plan would distribute is approximately $4,800 per student, nearly $2,000 less than he promised in his speech….

For example, Union City, which Christie lauded for producing “extraordinary growth under very trying circumstances,” would see its state and local funding drop from approximately $16,400 to $6,100 per student, a funding level below that of Mississippi.

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