The Abbott districts are not the only group fighting against the State’s School Funding Reform Act, which would replace special funding to 31 pre-designated poor urban districts with a different formula that injects cash on a per-pupil basis across the State. In a classic example of politics making strange bedfellows, a group called Dollar$ and Sense, which represents the richest districts in Bergen County, filed an Amicus Brief arguing that SFRA interferes with their right to provide a “thorough and efficient education” to I and J districts, the highest socio-economic District Factor Groups.
The brief, available here, argues that the State’s “adequacy budget” would force I and J districts to lower their spending by around $2,000 per pupil, which would cut out valuable programs that allow them to maintain their historically high achievement. Instead, they argue, the Court should maintain the Abbott formula and continue supplementing those 31 urban districts at the level of I’s and J’s.
Here’s our quibble with this lovefest. While the State is required to fund kids in Abbott districts at the same level of our richest districts, our I’s and J’s, the other districts, in fact, the majority, end up with the short end of the stick. The Brief itself highlights the odd result of the Abbott district decisions: kids who live in Abbott districts and in rich districts get a lot more money for education than kids who live in districts with DFG’s of C through H.
So the State wants to equalize spending for everyone, since its agenda is to consolidate districts, bring down property taxes and deal with the inequities within our educational system. Maybe the adequacy budget is too low. But our richest districts love the Abbott formula because it lets them set the spending standard.
So we end up with a bizarre kind of class warfare, with the poorest in the State (at least the poorest who live in cities) allied with the wealthiest. And who’s caught in the middle between the DOE’s hail of mandates and this dualistic alliance? Why, of course, the districts in the middle, those neither rich nor urban, who must follow the regulations and provide services without a cash infusion from either the State, via Abbott, or taxpayers, via deep pockets.