NJ Spotlight- Depending on whose math you follow, districts could be in line for $1 billion to $2 billion
In his final year in office, Gov. Chris Christie set a deadline of early June for reaching a compromise with the Legislature about school funding — and offered to sit down with lawmakers to hammer out a compromise.
But halfway through his 100-day challenge, little has happened — at least publicly. In the meantime, the administration has been forced to release details about the $1 billion or more at stake for districts in the debate.
Earlier this month, the state Department of Education — under pressure from advocates — posted the amounts that every district would be due if the state’s funding formula was fully paid for.
The numbers are stark, close to $1 billion overall that has been underfunded from the state’s finance law each year of Christie’s tenure.to see this year’s numbers.
But that’s where the debate begins: The Republican governor wants a radical restructuring of how the state pays for its schools, proposing last year an equal amount per pupil for every district. Democratic legislative leaders want the state to fully fund the school finance law that is already in place.
Midway through Christie’s 100-day challenge, few face-to-face meetings have been held, and there is little public sign of a resolution. At least one prominent player predicted the entire issue could come down to the wire when setting a state budget for next year.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told NJ Spotlight yesterday that he was expecting negotiations right to the end.
Nonetheless, the administration earlier this month released its own data about how much each district would gain — or lose — if the state’s School Funding Reform Act was fully funded.
Overall, the release revealed that even by the administration’s count, districts are receiving at minimum close to $1 billion less than would be required under the SFRA. Some districts like Newark are underfunded by more than $100 million. Paterson, facing the prospect of deep cuts in teaching and other instructional staff, is seeing an aid package that is more than $50 million less than required under the funding law.
Released under pressure from the Education Law Center, the numbers are hypothetical at best, given the state’s dire fiscal condition.
And depending on the source, the state’s numbers could be way undercounting the true impact. By some accounts, the underfunding is close to $2 billion if counting extra aid to districts receiving “hold-harmless” money to protect them from cuts.
Jersey City, for one, has been called out for receiving as much as $100 million more than required if its extra aid was phased out. Other adjustments for enrollment growth are also not accounted in the state’s latest release.
Still, the state’s annual numbers give at least a snapshot of how districts would fare if indeed the SFRA was even close to fully funded.