NJ Spotlight Education Writer: Some Poorer Districts Receive More Money Per Student


Universal preschool in the state’s poorest districts, New Jersey’s aggressive school construction and renovation program, and the way that the state pays for the schools are all based on a landmark ruling in New Jersey from 25 years ago that still shapes education today. NJ Spotlight Education Writer Laura Waters told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that some poorer districts are receiving more money per student than wealthier districts because the students require more supplementary services.

Before Abbott, which was a series of Supreme Court rulings that led to universal preschools, wealthy towns had great schools and poor towns did not. Waters said before Abbott, districts relied on local property taxes to fund their schools so wealthy districts had many more resources at their disposal than poor districts. She said what Abbott did was declare that children who grew up in poverty had the same rights to an equal and thorough education as the wealthier students.

Waters said that it did in some ways resolve the issue of public schools being funded solely through local property taxes. She said there are over 20 Abbott decisions that continue to be issued and it has resolved it to some extent. She said while wealthy towns continue to rely almost solely on local property taxes to pay school bills, poor towns are subsidized through a funding formula that is supposed to allow them to compensate for a lower tax base.

What Abbott did is it ordered the state to compensate the districts in such a way that the 31 Abbott districts had to have as much money per student as the wealthiest district.

Over time it has changed and some poorer districts are getting more money per student than the wealthy districts. Waters said that the reason for that is there is a lot of research that shows that poor students require all sorts of extra, supplementary services, such as full day preschool, extended school days, and smaller class sizes.

“What governors have done since the Abbott ruling is they have tried in various ways to cut the bite of the Abbott rulings from the state budget. Right now so much of our state budget is devoted to education so School Funding Reform Act was one of a series of formulas that attempted to sort of pull back a little bit from say Asbury Park which now receives something like $34,000 per pupil per year,” said Waters.

Waters said that the only governor who has budgeted enough to satisfy the formula was Governor Jon Corzine. She said since then, no governor has had enough money at his disposal to fully fund the School Funding Reform Act.

  • http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/ Save Our Schools NJ

    It is not accurate to say that high-poverty communities are better funded than wealthy ones.

    New Jersey’s school funding formula is not allocated by district. It is based on the needs of individual children, regardless of where they live. Children living in poverty, with special needs, and with Limited English Proficiency are allocated more funding per student under the formula because it takes a lot more money to provide such children with a high-quality education.

    High-poverty communities like Camden and Asbury Park have a much higher concentration of such children. For example, 92% of all public school students in Camden live at or below the poverty line; 9% are Limited English Proficient and 19% have special needs. That’s why Camden appears to receive more absolute dollars per pupil. But if you account for their poverty, language status and special needs, the funding is not higher than for wealthier districts. And, if those students in need moved from Camden to Princeton, the funding would follow them.

    The Christie Administration has outright ignored the school funding formula, even though it is the law in New Jersey, and has left higher poverty districts particularly underfunded.

    This would be a good topic to invite the Education Law Center to speak about as they were the ones to bring the various Abbott challenges and know a tremendous amount about this issue.