Op-Ed: For New Jersey State Aid, Let Money ‘Follow the Child’

When the School Funding Reform Act was passed in 2008, it was heralded as a formula under which “money follows the child.” Under the School Funding Reform Act, state aid would be directed to at-risk children themselves, wherever they lived, as opposed to state aid being earmarked for certain school districts that historically had a lot of at-risk children. People called the School Funding Reform Act a “unitary funding formula” that would treat all districts equally, depending on their needs and tax capacity, instead of the previous system, under which the determination of state aid for the Abbott districts was different from other districts.

When the School Funding Reform Act is described by New Jersey's education establishment, the focus is always on the intricacies of how demographics determine a district's “adequacy budget,” how real-estate values and income determine “local fair share, “ and how the two are mathematically united to determine a district's “equalization aid.” In other words, the explanation of SFRA focuses on how the state has created a mathematical formula so that state aid goes out in inverse proportion to a district's wealth. Equalization aid supposedly equalizes academic opportunity for students in middle-income and low-income districts with their peers in New Jersey's high-income districts.

Indeed, there is a mathematical beauty to the formulas of the School Funding Reform Act. Philosophically, it's hard to argue with the School Funding Reform Act and even be proud of it as a model of progressive school finance.

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