School Funding-Sampson Testimony

Posted by Charles Sampson on 6/3/2019

Charles Sampson

Assembly Budget Committee Testimony 3/20/2019

Thank you to members of the Assembly Budget Committee for allowing me the opportunity to testify about school funding this afternoon. My name is Charles Sampson, and I am the Superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District. I am also the immediate past president of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, the father of four public school aged children and a former board of education member in my hometown of Clinton New Jersey.  Freehold Regional is the largest limited purpose district in the state, serving almost 11,000 students from eight municipalities with a wide range of district demographics. I’m proud of the district’s outstanding track record in both academic and fiscal performance measures, and I thank you for the opportunity to share my perspective on the important issue of school funding fairness.

I believe it is necessary to provide greater context to the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 and the current changes under S2, and to bring to light areas that necessitate much closer scrutiny, understanding and context. Without a pause and a deeper analysis of the SFRA and S2, the immediate and long term consequences are dire for tens of thousands of students and dozens of school systems across the state. These consequences will have an exponentially negative impact over the multi-year phase in of S2. I implore members of this body to more thoroughly examine the flawed components of the SFRA and S2.

The SFRA is simply defined in the opening paragraph of A Formula for Success:  All Children, All Communities:

“…to develop an equitable and predictable way to distribute State aid for education.”

More specifically, the formula attempted to address the need for a “permanent, formulaic remedy…based on actual community characteristics…that can equitably be applied to all school districts.”   

Equalization Aid represented approximately 75% of SFRA based state aid to schools for FY20.  Each component of the Equalization Aid calculation has specific vulnerabilities that, if left unrecognized, can undermine the structural integrity of this otherwise well designed funding formula. As we seek solutions to our funding disparities, we cannot provide solutions without fully understanding the context of the SFRA and areas that need closer scrutiny. These include:

  • Educational Adequacy Report (EAR): The FY2020 EAR recognizes the need for a deeper analysis of all aspects of the formula in addition to the CPI-driven triennial update.  I welcome the opportunity to join the expert panel in examining the underlying base cost data within the context of current legislative recommendations around special education and regionalization, along with certain high school specific costs associated with vocational and athletic transportation.    

 

  • Local Fair Share (LFS): Of particular concern is the volatility of the Local Fair Share calculation.  Specifically, the wealth multipliers do not consistently interpret income and property value and, as a result, the calculation generates large swings in the community’s capacity to pay property tax – swings that are inconsistent with actual changes in income and property value.  For example, Freehold Regional’s Local Fair Share increased by 68% from FY09 to FY20 despite property value and district income only increasing 11% and 48% respectively.  If the wealth multipliers had remained the same during that time, Freehold Regional’s Local Fair Share would have increased by 30% instead of 68%.  Essentially, increases in the multipliers force citizens to pay more taxes in addition to the taxes associated with increased wealth.

Concerns about the Adequacy Budget and LFS have effectively been obscured by years of districts being held harmless with adjustment aid.  S2’s proposed phase out of adjustment aid brings into clear focus the shifting of financial responsibility to the taxpayers via arbitrary increases to property and income multipliers by 57% and 10% respectively.  For districts like Freehold Regional, who spend $3,000 less than the average for limited purpose regional high school districts, opportunities for students will evaporate, programs will be cut and reduced, critical infrastructure work ignored, dozens of staff will be eliminated, our class sizes already at 28-30 for core courses will grow exponentially and the heart of our community- an exceptional school system; will struggle to provide the proper support to our most prized resource-our children

While I believe that the SFRA is well suited as the framework for our state’s funding formula, reforms are necessary to ensure an equitable, predictable and fairly presented funding model. Put simply, the manner through which LFS is calculated is neither equitable nor predictable. Please take a pause and more fully assess the impacts of S2 and the flaws of the SFRA. Thank you for your time today, it is greatly appreciated.