What is Jersey City's school funding crisis?

Based on the NJ education funding formula, Jersey City Public Schools are $100 million under-funded, technically termed "below adequacy". This is primarily a local problem...we don't raise enough school taxes to fully fund our local schools. For years, the state of NJ has given Jersey City "extra" aid, termed "Adjustment Aid", to make up for this local shortfall. However, starting in Spring 2019, NJ will start to withdraw Adjustment Aid at the rate of $25 million per year for 7 years, or $150+ million in total. This means our $100 million funding deficit will grow deeper each year, absent local action to fund our local schools.

39

Public Schools

30,000+

Students Enrolled

$660M+

Operating Budget

$100M+

Underfunded

What $100 million "below adequacy" looks like today.

Public school advocates have been listening to and learning from each other, with the hope of understanding: what is the impact of underfunding? Parents, teachers, staff, and other stakeholders have identified common problems that we can tie to underfunding, including:

Increasing Class Sizes

Students are experiencing larger class sizes due, in part, to positions that have been eliminated or not refilled after teachers retire. Also, some schools have classroom capacity issues, as school capacity has not kept pace with residential construction growth.

Inconsistent access to water

Many of our schools have lead pipes that have never been replaced. Water fountains are either shut down or have been removed completely. Students rely on a water bottle delivery system that can and does break down.

Loss of Critical Staff

Some of our schools lack enough staff members charged with maintaining safe school climate, including crisis intervention teachers (CITs), guidance counselors, and security guards. School nurses are rotating between schools.

Loss of after-school programs

Many middle school and freshman sports, extended day and weekend programs, and after-school programs have been cut due to decreasing budget.

How is "adequacy" defined for budgeting purposes?

In 2008, NJ adopted a new school funding formula called "SFRA" or the "School Funding Reform Act." This formula drives our public schools budget.

SFRA bases “adequacy” on a weighted-average student formula, whereupon students are given higher “weights” depending on higher levels of need (and the need is supposed to drive the funding). General education students are given a base-weight. But then three main categories of students with greater levels of need are lifted up by SFRA: At-Risk (Lower Income), English Language Learners, and Special Education. Each school district’s budget is “built up” by applying a weighted-average-student formula to the student population in that district. This “built-up” budget is termed the district’s “adequacy budget”.

At-risk (lower income) Students

Children enrolled in the federal free or reduced lunch program are deemed at-risk for purposes of the funding formula. Free or reduced lunch is a federal program that students qualify for if their family earns below a certain threshold of income.

English language learners

English language learners (ELL) can be both at risk and ELL, or ELL-only depending on the income of their family. They are given a higher weight depending on their need (ELL and at-risk, or ELL-only).

Special Education Students

Children are deemed eligible for special education enrollment if they have one or more disabilities identified in NJAC 6A:14-3.5. Those disability categories include hearing or speech impairment, autism, and learning disability.

See At-Risk, ELL, & Special Education Enrollment Stats by School & Ward in Jersey City

View Special Education Enrollment Statistics by School (all of NJ including Jersey City)

20,000+

Students in JCPS who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

2,000+

Students in JCPS who are English language learners (ELL).

4,100+

Students in JCPS who have special education needs.

If we are underfunded, why is our state aid getting cut by $25 million this Spring?

Jersey City currently gets too much in state aid. We are, technically, "over-aided" even though we are also underfunded.

The chart below is taken from this March 2018 Education Law Center report (I have added arrow call-outs to their chart for emphasis/explanation). The chart shows Jersey City’s funding data for the 2018 school year – the bar on the left shows what *should* be happening if JCPS were fully funded and the bar on the right shows what is *actually* happening, and why we are under-funded.  If Jersey City were fully funding all of its students, the schools budget would be $625 million, funded $255 million via state aid and $370 million via local tax dollars (shown in the bar on the left, below). But here’s what’s really happening (shown in the bar on the right, below): only $117 million of our budget is funded via local taxes. State aid is funding the formula-mandated $255 million PLUS another $125 million to help offset the local underfunding. This extra $125 million is called “Adjustment Aid”, and, starting in 2019, NJ will start to withdraw Adjustment Aid a pace of $25 million per year over 7 years.

My property taxes are high, so why aren't we fully funding our schools?

Because your tax bill is used primarily to fund City and County government services. Jersey CIty's public schools receive the lowest allocation of property taxes.

In many other municipalities in NJ, the schools receive the highest allocation of property taxes from local taxpayers. In Jersey City, it’s the opposite. Jersey City – the municipality – receives the highest allocation of property tax, followed by the County, and then the Schools.

I created the Property Tax Dashboard below to enable taxpayers to view this dynamic (the data is from NJ’s Division of Local Government services here). I have all 566 NJ municipalities included (you can drill into county and town).  For each municipality, you can view taxes on a year-by-year basis from 1988 to 2017, broken out by City, County, and School tax levies (the “levy” is the portion of the government budget paid for with property tax).  If you filter for Jersey City, you can see that in 2017, $237 million in local tax dollars were paid to the City, $128 million were paid to the County, and $119 million were paid to the Public Schools.