NorthJersey reports on the pending close of the School Funding Reform Act hearings in Superior Court. Underway for the last three weeks, Judge Peter Doyne is getting ready to rule on whether Corzine is correct in claiming that the SFRA fairly distributes funds to NJ’s poorest school districts and, thus, can replace the Abbott decisions as an equity mechanism.
The article quotes an advocate for maintaining the Abbott formula, which delivers lots of extra aid to 31 urban districts:
Education in communities like Paterson “costs more because kids come to school with less,” said Irene Sterling, president of the Paterson Education Fund, a non-profit advocacy group. “They have fewer vocabulary words, fewer experiences. They grow up without books or computers in their home. The school has got to make all of that up.”
That’s true. Education costs more when kids come to school with less. The problem is that the current aid formula, meant to give more to kids who come to school with less, is unaligned with the actual location of those kids. They no longer reside in those designated 31 districts, but all over New Jersey.
The more meaningful question is whether or not the State, in this case the DOE, can actually implement SFRA. Poor kids are more mobile, moving from district to district, even state to state. Household income is a moving target. Determining eligibility for extra funds and keeping up with district residence is not like shooting fish in a barrel; it’s more like shooting fish in whitewater. The DOE’s reputation for accuracy and punctuality is not unsullied, and we wonder whether Judge Doyle’s ruling will factor in the State’s ability to execute a new entitlement program.