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.