Jersey City Public Schools
Based on the state funding formula, Jersey City Public Schools are currently $100 million under-funded. Jersey City students, parents, teachers, and staff experience this under-funding everyday.
This is a structural deficit and a threat to our school system, our city, and our community.
Get the facts, connect in community, help work towards solutions.
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.
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:
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".
Students in JCPS who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Students in JCPS who are English language learners (ELL).
Students in JCPS who have special education needs.
If we are underfunded, why is our state aid getting cut by $25 million in Spring 2019?
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.
Jersey City's State Aid Education Cuts: A 10-Minute Video Tutorial
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.
How is the payroll tax related to school funding?
When the state decided to cut Jersey City's adjustment aid, it simultaneously granted Jersey City the authority to pass a payroll tax for the express purpose of helping cover the state aid cuts. The state also expected, and still expects, that Jersey City will increase its local tax levy. The payroll tax was passed in November 2018 by City Council. As of this writing, the payroll tax has yet to be certified, though city officials have indicated that the funds will be made available before the start of the 2019/20 school year.
What are the latest updates with the 2019/20 Schools Budget?
On May 6th the Board of Education finalized a budget with only a $10 million local levy increase. This, despite a $27 million state aid cut and existing $250 million local levy gap. As a direct result of this failure to locally fund, hundreds of teachers received notices of termination. Unless the city chooses to locally fund, the terminations will go into effect for next year.
Jersey City has been on notice since the summer of 2018 that it needed to raise its local school tax levy significantly to make up for state aid that was going away. In November 2018, the City Council passed the payroll tax, which was an acknowledgment by city officials that our schools were catastrophically underfunded from local sources.
Jersey City Together called on the Board of Education to raise the school tax levy (full disclosure: I'm on the JC Together education advocacy team).
In April and May 2019, the Board of Education conducted three open public meetings, held during the week at 5pm at PS #26 School in the Heights. Advocates from Jersey City Together attended all three meetings (I was part of that team). At two of those meetings, we went on record asking the Board of Education to raise the local school tax levy to avoid catastrophic staffing cuts. We specifically asked the BOE to raise the levy above the $10 million listed in the proposed budget.
The School Board chose not to raise the local levy beyond $10 million. As a result, hundreds of teachers and principals have received layoff notices as of this posting.