N.J.'s School Funding Formula Is Broken, and Not Just for Children with Disabilities

New Jersey’s legislated school funding formula, the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, is a hot mess. In fact, many people would concede (at least behind closed doors) that this pre-recession and quixotic state aid allocation system desperately needs reform, birthed as it was from former Gov. Jon Corzine’s understandable desire to receive a reprieve from the 1990's Court-ordered Abbott district funding that, 25 years later, treats districts like now-chic Hoboken and Jersey City as if they were Camden or Newark and maintains line items like Adjustment Aid that Jeff Bennett calls “legalized aid hoarding.”

Often one can look at the world of special education as a kind of canary in the coalmine. Everything is bigger there: achievement disparities, cost per pupil, the urgency of action. So it’s significant that a New Jersey State Task Force has formally admitted that, in the case of special education, SFRA is indeed broken.

From coverage today by NJ Spotlight:
Maybe the most significant recommendation made by the 17-member panel of educators, special-needs advocates and others is that lawmakers significantly rewrite the state’s funding law to better distribute special-education aid to school districts.  
The 28-page report says the state’s current method of funding special education – based on a statewide average count of students, a so-called “census-based” method – is ineffective and does little to lower special-needs classification rates in the state, one of the aims of the task force’s study. 
The report suggested the state go back to providing aid to students based on their individual needs and disabilities. 
“This (current) approach has been proven to be misplaced and inappropriate,” the report concludes.
I’ve written about the problems with census-based aid distribution.  Four years ago the NJ DOE hired  a consulting firm after the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network filed a lawsuit against the state for underfunding education for special needs kids. The report from the consultants  confirmed what we all knew: that a census-based distribution of special education aid, encoded in SFRA, was far inferior to our old system of allotting aid based on actual disability and student place of residence.

Now, almost half a decade later, a Task Force has said the same thing.

SFRA doesn’t work in the world of disabilities. And the canary in the coalmine is tweeting that it doesn’t work in the general education population either.

NJ senators and assembly members have just started to concede this. Maybe this new report will push them them to actually commit to rewriting a state school funding formula that is divorced from fiscal reality and student need.

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