Senate approves bill to revisit how NJ's K-12 schools are funded –

A bill that aims to reexamine how the state’s K-12 schools are funded was approved by the Senate on Monday and is en route to the Assembly for a vote.
The bill, if passed, will create a task force of experts whose job is to revisit the SFRA — the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 — which determines how much money is awarded to school districts every year.
The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate. Sen. Steven Oroho, its Republican sponsor, who represents towns in Morris, Warren and Sussex counties, wants to return aid to suburban and rural districts that have lost it in previous years.
Its Democratic sponsor from South Jersey, Sen. Vin Gopal, said he wants to bring transparency into the school funding process and make a “fundamental reassessment” of how it is working to benefit New Jersey
One of those fundamentals is how Local Fair Share, or a district’s contribution to its school funding, is calculated. New Jersey relies partly on aggregate income, which can be unfair to rural districts, those that don’t have non-residential properties and some Philadelphia suburbs, said Jeffrey Bennett, an independent researcher and blogger who studies the school funding formula. Using aggregate local income would make sense if districts collected local income taxes, he said.
“My biggest concern is that elected officials have not said anything about bringing reform to the Local Fair Share formula. It’s very unusual and produces unfairness,” he said.
“The bill would bring transparency to the formula, and that’s what we would ask the task force to do — to help answer all questions. I don’t think just saying it’s proprietary is enough,” said Gopal, who said he would be open to reexamining the fair share formula.
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Advocates agree that revisiting the formula is a good thing.
“We see the need for this work. The formula has been in place for a long time without any systematic review of all of its components, so we’re definitely in favor of that,” said Danielle Farrie, research director at the Education Law Center, though she clarified that she hopes the task force will be peopled by experts who are committed to improving it, not changing it in its entirety.
Equity is another priority for the bill’s sponsors. English-language learners and children needing special education will be a focus area.
The state has seen significant demographic shifts since the formula was implemented 13 years ago. Reviewing that from the lens of equity appears to be another driver for reexamining the formula.
“We’ve had an increase in the poverty rate in a lot of my districts, the free and reduced lunch population has increased, so I would just like to take a look at the input 2020 census data just to make sure all aspects of the formula are being applied properly,” said Gopal, who represents Monmouth County.
Six Jersey Shore districts brought a lawsuit against the state Department of Education in January when it did not provide them with codes and formulas used to determine how state aid is distributed. A judge ruled in their favor and ordered the state to turn over funding data and formula codes that drive how aid is provided to the state’s 600 school districts.
Gopal, whose district includes one of the school districts (Freehold Regional), said it was “a fair question.”
Bennett, the researcher, said that two 9-decimal-point multipliers used in calculating the Local Fair Share formula were at the “kernel” of the lawsuit brought by the six districts. The Department of Education does not explain where those hard numbers come from in the formula.
The amount of funding a school district should receive is calculated based on the cost per pupil — a calculation based on many factors related to individual student needs. This total amount is split between state and local revenue, based on the district’s capacity to raise taxes locally. The state is required to make up the difference.
In actuality, it has never contributed the full amount of state aid required by law, said Farrie, of the Education Law Center.
Staff writer Katie Sobko contributed to this article
Mary Ann Koruth covers education for To get unlimited access to the latest news about New Jersey’s schools and how it affects your children, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Twitter: @MaryAnnKoruth


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