New Jersey’s school funding formula is out of date and needs to be recalibrated to meet today’s more rigorous school standards, according to a new report by New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP).
“School funding formulas need to be calibrated with respect to the desired goals,” said Bruce D. Baker, Ed.D., report co-author and Professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. “Put simply, it costs more to achieve more. The school funding formula was calibrated to goals and expectations of well over a decade ago. It’s time to revisit the formula and recalibrate it for modern times and modern goals.”
The report, New Jersey School Funding: The Higher the Goals, the Higher the Costs, explains that New Jersey has more rigorous student learning standards today than in 2008 when the state enacted the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA).
The school funding formula established by SFRA set the per-pupil cost of educating students with the goal of having between 50 and 80 percent of students achieve “proficiency” on state tests. Since the formula was set in 2008, the state has raised student standards — through the Common Core State Standards in 2009 and the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in 2016 — and introduced more difficult student assessments.
“New Jersey is demanding a higher level of performance from its students and its teachers. But schools can’t meet high standards if they don’t have the necessary resources,” said Mark Weber, Ph.D., report co-author and Special Analyst for Education Policy at NJPP. “More funding means smaller class sizes, more individualized instruction, better remediation for struggling students, the latest technology — all the things necessary for students to meet more ambitious goals. As we show in the report, if we’re going to raise standards, we have to raise funding.”
Using the National Educational Cost Model (NECM) to estimate costs and Massachusetts’ student outcomes as an aspirational goal, the report estimates the cost to fully fund districts to meet today’s more rigorous standards. The report finds that the school districts that are the most underfunded are large, low-income districts with majority Black or Hispanic/Latinx student populations.
The estimated per-pupil spending gap of these large, low-income districts ranges from $2,275 in Clifton to $21,980 in Trenton. The model also finds spending gaps of $9,228 in New Brunswick, $12,371 in Paterson, and $15,651 in Newark.
“New Jersey’s public schools are consistently ranked the best in the nation, and one important factor in that is our state’s longstanding commitment to investing in public education,” said NJEA President Sean M. Spiller. “Over time, though, inequities have arisen in how schools are funded and it is necessary now to revisit the school funding formula to ensure that the needs of all students are met, no matter where they go to school. To continue leading and continue improving, we must continue investing in the things that support student success in both academics and in life.”
The report recommends that New Jersey fully fund the SFRA — something the state has never done — and recalibrate the formula with updated spending and outcome targets to better reflect current school and student needs.