Gov. Chris Christie today announced the formation of a school aid task force to specifically examine how at-risk students are counted and funded.
The task force will examine whether the use of free lunch enrollment as the measure of the at risk-population is the most efficient means to count students and will recommend a new and more efficient measure, Christie said.
The governor cited figures from the state auditor that showed fraudulent enrollment in the program as high as 37 percent and said the measure needs to be looked at and adjusted.
“While the administration has proposed increasing overall spending in education to the highest levels in state history we have to go further to make sure the resources are being used in a way that will close the achievement gap and serve those students who need it most,” Christie said.
The current funding formula, Christie said, awards more aid to districts with greater numbers of at risk students. Those students are funded at rates as high as 157 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students.
“Unfortunately, we’ve all heard the stories of abuse and misuse of this program,” Christie said. “A report by the state auditor has revealed high levels of fraudulent enrollment in the program, resulting in possibly tens of millions of dollars being misdirected or misspent in school districts based on enrollment in this program.”
The task force also will examine adjustments to the school funding formula to account for artificially deflated municipal ratable bases due to tax abatements offered in certain municipalities.
The implementation of the task force follows the announcement two weeks ago of changes to the funding formula that will give less weight to at-risk students, decreasing the amount of aid they receive. That change led to a .5 percent decrease in funding to the so-called Abbott Districts and other lower income districts statewide.
Christie said he expects a report from the task force in 120 days.