Christie’s newest school funding formula a mixed bag for Abbott Districts

Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to increase state aid to public schools by more than $97 million means that for the first time in four years, no district will see a drop in aid.

The governor boasted during his annual budget address about increasing total state aid to New Jersey’s schools to nearly $9 billion, saying education aid is at “an all-time record.”

The election-year budget proposal comes after the state’s so-called Abbott Districts were among the hardest hit districts under last year’s funding formula. But even with the bulk of the additional proposed aid set to hit Abbott schools, it’s still a mixed bag for the state’s poorer communities.

Under the governor’s proposal, all of the state’s 31 Abbott Districts would receive either flat or increased funding over last year’s levels.

The boost amounts to 14 districts seeing a full restoration or even an increase in aid compared to 2011-2012 funding levels. And although the remaining 17 districts would not see a drop in state aid over last year’s budget, they will, however, fail to receive state aid funding levels from 2011-2012, according to budget figures.

The mixed bag varies in funding range.

Districts that were hardest hit by last year’s formula – including Camden City schools, which lost more than $5 million, and Asbury Park, which absorbed a 4.2 percent reduction in aid – stand to recoup some aid, but will still fall short of returning to funding levels from two years ago.

Other districts will see a jump in funding, as well as an increase in aid compared to two years ago.

Hoboken will again see the largest percentage increase in aid to the Abbotts – 8.3 percent or $810,000 – and Elizabeth City will see the largest dollar increase at nearly $7.6 million. Both figures represent an increase over 2011-2012 levels.

However, critics argue the funding boost does little when factoring in the cost of living and other rising expenses tied to running a school district.

“There are former Abbott Districts that were cut that are not seeing the restoration of those cuts, and there are some that would be getting modest increases that have been tightly capped,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, an organization which has filed suit against the state over Abbott funding.

“There’s no real different treatment here,” he said.

Sciarra argues what’s more is that the same mixed bag funding formula applied to Abbott schools is also being applied to the state’s middle and moderate income districts. The state has 232 “under adequacy districts” that will see an increase over last year of only 1.3 percent.

The $56 million increase to those schools ranges from flat funding to 19 percent, he said, adding that 83 districts will get less than $1,000 of increased aid and 93 will receive less than a $10,000 boost.

“The districts that really get slammed are the middle class and the moderate income districts,” Sciarra said.

Christie has long opposed the funding forced by the Abbott court decisions.

The governor told residents as recently as this week that he ran on a platform of vowing to change the makeup of the state’s high court in part to adjust the state’s funding formula.

“Of the $97 million that we’re going to increase [in school aid] the bulk of it will go to the Abbott districts, probably somewhere around 60 percent to 65 percent. And the reason for that is the New Jersey Supreme Court, who continues every time I try to make a change in the school funding formula I get sued, it goes to the Supreme Court, I lose and then I have to pay the money,” Christie said during a Montville town hall Wednesday.

“It is why I am trying to change the Supreme Court,” he said, which garnered applause from the crowd.

“It’s one of the reasons I’m so frustrated by the fact I now have two more nominees to the Supreme Court – who I nominated months ago – who still haven’t gotten hearings,” Christie continued. “You see, here’s the bottom line: Not the Legislature, not the governor are going to be able to change the inequity and the failure of Abbott unless we change the Supreme Court.”

Christie’s newest school funding formula a mixed bag for Abbott Districts