N.J.'s Use of ARRA Funds

The Campaign for Educational Equity based at Teachers College, Columbia University, has published an analysis of each state’s application for ARRA school stimulus money. Its conclusion is that just about everyone’s given short shrift to equity:
Of the three stated educational goals of the Act -- stabilizing education funding, allowing continuation of equity and adequacy reforms, and promoting education reforms to boost student achievement -- only the first seems to have been substantially achieved. Virtually all of the states have stabilized their funding levels for FY 2010 at the previous year’s level, with the application of the federal stimulus funds. ( In many instances, however, this “flat funding” will nevertheless result in substantial cuts in educational services since mandatory cost increases will not be covered.)
How’d New Jersey do? Not so well. In fact, we’re singled out (along with Georgia, Virginia, and Washington) for acknowledging up front that we anticipate “falling short of full-funding levels in spite of the infusion of stimulus money.” The report notes specifically,
We do know from other sources that New Jersey’s budget shortfalls do specifically undercut equity and adequacy adjustments called for by the statutory formulae
"Other sources?" Could that be the Education Law Center’s June 2nd missive to Arne Duncan in which “ELC writes to request that the USDOE reject New Jersey’s amended application for initial funding under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program?”

The 3-page letter, signed by Executive Director David Sciarra, explains that N.J. is violating ARRA’s directive to use the money not only to stabilize school spending in spite of the economic recession, but also to use the stimulus money “for phasing in State equity and adequacy adjustments.” While N.J., “correctly designates” Corzine’s School Funding Reform Act as the formula for distribution, ELC claims that we violate our own plan by only partially funding it, even with all the ARRA money. – we’re $3.3 million short. Sciarra also notes that, in turn, we’ve violated the terms of the State Supreme Court’s recent Abbott v. Burke decision, which is “premised on the expectation that the State will continue to provide school funding aid during this and the next two years at the levels required by SFRA’s formula each year.”

The USDOE, by the way, rejected ELC’s appeal. N.J. will get the stimulus money. We will also, according to ELC and The Campaign for Educational Equity, shortchange poor kids by limiting our use of ARRA money to maintaining the status quo.

How can we do otherwise? Our school infrastructure – 600 districts with demographics determined by tiny swatches of a diverse and segregated state – destines educational inequity among schools. The problem’s not whether we have enough money. (We do – our per pupil costs are about the highest in the country. Part of our problem is that we equate increases in student achievement with increases in funding.) By slicing ourselves so thin, we create school districts restricted to single neighborhoods, which drives up segregation. Unless we address our allegiance to local governance, the best we can do with public education in New Jersey is separate and equal. Right now we’re not even close to that low bar.

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