Abbott Districts take hit in new school funding formula

The state’s so called Abbott Districts are among the hardest hit districts under a new school funding formula announced today.

Of the state’s 31 Abbott Districts, 23 will lose funding in the next school year, two will see flat funding and six will see increased funding.

In a conference call with reporters, Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf outlined a new funding formula that includes changes to the way enrollment is counted and alterations in the awarding of adjustment aid.  According to a report released with the state aid numbers, the state will phase out adjustment aid, which totaled $571 million in the last fiscal year, by 2017. 

Asked about the funding cuts to the Abbott Districts, Cerf told reporters it would be a mistake to focus only on total spending. Instead, the focus should be on quality of spending, Cerf said.

“This is as much about how much to spend as how well to spend it,” he said.

Cerf called the most recent school aid figures “very much a good news story” and said more than 90 percent of the state’s school districts will see a rise in per pupil funding.

In all, the state’s 31 Abbott Districts will see a reduction in aid of more than $24 million off the more than $4.4 billion they received in the 2011-2012 school year.  Overall the cut amounts to a half percent reduction over last year’s court-ordered Abbott funding level.

Camden City schools will lose the highest dollar value of the Abbott Districts at a more than $5 million reduction, while Asbury Park will lose the highest percentage of state aid with a 4.2 percent reduction.

Hoboken will see the largest percentage increase in aid of the Abbotts at 4.2 percent, while West New York will see the largest dollar increase at $876,285.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which filed suit against the state last year to restore funding to the Abbott Districts, said the cuts are likley the result to a change in the formula that provides funding for poor students both in and out of Abbott Districts.  The proposed formula cuts the so-called “weight” which determines funding for poor districts.

“This is not just an Abbott issue,” Sciarra said. “This is an issue for all poor students.”

Sciarra said cutting the weight would result in cuts to any district with poor students, but the cut would be greater to districts with a greater concentration of poor students, such as the Abbotts.

Of the non-Abbott districts, Vernon Township will see the largest reduction in aid at $1.62 million, followed by Atlantic City with a $1.47 million reduction.

Sciarra promised that the ELC would fight the change through the Legislature, which would have to approve it as part of the budget process.

In May, as a result of the suit filed by the ELC, a divided Supreme Court ordered the state to provide an additional $500 million to the Abbott Districts, ruling that funding in last year’s budget short-changed the generally poor urban districts.

Abbott Districts take hit in new school funding formula