Fair Funding Friday: June 11, 2021
Call Your Legislators!
The NJ state budget will be finalized at the end of June. Our district has been promised $24.7 million, but there is no guarantee we will get it. We need our legislators to advocate for us to ensure we receive this money.
On June 11, please call or email your local representatives, as well as Senate President Steve Sweeney, Governor Murphy and the Department of Education. Let them know we're counting on them to correct years of underfunding by the state.
Suggested script: "My name is _____ from Cherry Hill, and I'm calling to thank you for supporting our school district and ask you to do it again. Your recent efforts have moved Cherry Hill's education funding in the right direction, but you can't let up. It is vital we receive the $24.7 million promised to us in the next state budget. For too long, we have done more with a lot less than other districts. Now our schools are at a breaking point. Please help us get our fair share of state funding."
Let them hear your voices!
Asm Lou Greenwald 856-435-1247 AsmGreenwald@njleg.org
Asw Pamela Lampitt 856-435-1247 AswLampitt@njleg.org
Sen Jim Beach 856-429-1572 SenBeach@mjleg.org
Sen Steve Sweeney 856-251-9801 SenSweeney@njleg.org
Governor Phil Murphy 609-292-6000
Dept of Education 877-900-6960
Fair Funding and the Bond
Inadequate state funding for Cherry Hill schools dates back to the 1990s.
The School Funding Reform Act of 2008 was a legislative attempt to address inequities in state education funding in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the legislature was unable to fully fund the formula, leaving districts like Cherry Hill, whose mandated allocation was $29 million, drastically underfunded.
Cherry Hill was penalized for being fiscally responsible, and suffered funding losses over the years ranging from $10 to $20 million per year, with the total loss estimated to be more than $170 million.
Through the efforts of Fair Funding for Cherry Hill Public Schools (and other advocacy groups statewide), pressure was brought to bear on Trenton to restore state aid fairly according to the formula.
In 2018, the NJ legislature passed another reform bill (S2), which will increase Cherry Hill’s funding by 2024-25 to its mandated level. While this is a positive step, the restoration of state aid will not begin to make up for the damage done by the cumulative loss we have suffered.
This loss of funding has forced the district to make some hard choices. It prioritized staff and curriculum over the upkeep of facilities. So while schools maintained academic excellence, their buildings, parking lots, playgrounds and fields deteriorated.
At this point, our schools need a massive infusion of funds that only a bond referendum can meet. A bond is the only way to raise the capital investment needed to make up for the millions we missed out on from the state. The future of our schools is at stake.
The citizens of Cherry Hill can make this happen. Approving a bond will result in a small property tax increase that will be offset by additional state aid reimbursements for 40% of the renovation costs. This one-time property tax increase will result in a huge long-term gain for Cherry Hill.
The entire community will benefit from renovation of our schools. Parents will know their children are learning in upgraded, safer environments; students will enjoy improved educational opportunities; and all homeowners, even those without children in the schools, will enjoy enhanced property values.
September 23, 2021 at 7pm
via Zoom. Details to follow.
State Funding Numbers Up for 2021-22
The NJ Department of Education released its budget numbers for Cherry Hill for the 2021-22 school year: They are directing $24,698,590 to our district. That is an increase of 26.4% from the previous year.
This is tremendous progress towards full funding under SFRA. District administrators, educators, parents and community members who have been working to rectify the underfunding that has plagued Cherry Hill for so long appreciate this progress. We are grateful for our legislators' commitment to following S2 and their continued efforts on our behalf to fully fund our district's schools.
Fair Funding Update: 2020-21 School Year
Thanks to the pandemic, the Cherry Hill School District did not receive the proposed funding increase it was promised. Originally, the NJ Dept of Education planned to allocate $21.9 million to our school, which was an 18.85% increase from last year, and a significant step toward the $29.3 million Cherry Hill is supposed to receive annually from the state.
Instead, Cherry Hill has been given $19.5 million, which is a 6% increase over last year's state funding.
While we are moving in the right direction, the pace is frustratingly slow. Consider what our district could do with the nearly $10 million we missed out on this year, in terms of addressing any of a number of issues affecting it during this unprecedented time. Imagine how different our school technology or HVAC systems or security would be if we had received the more than $160 million Cherry Hill should have gotten under SFRA since 2008.
Many of the issues currently frustrating parents and teachers and administrators are due in significant part to the chronic underfunding we have suffered at the hands of the state.
Cherry Hill's State Funding Background
The State of NJ has chronically underfunded the Cherry Hill School District for decades.
Under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the most recent education funding distribution formula, Cherry Hill should receive $29 million. But NJ has never allocated enough money to fully fund the formula.
Cherry Hill has never received its formula-mandated amount. For 2020-21, it received $19.5 million.
This came after many years of advocating for increased funding. In 2010, then Gov. Christie slashed funding to education: Cherry Hill received $7.9 million to educate more than 11,000 students. (Of that $7.9 million, $3.9 million was taken from money Cherry Hill schools had in its excess fund balance, earmarked to help the following year’s budget, as well as 25% of the money from its capital reserve. That money has never been returned.). Funding has been climbing in small increments since then.
Cherry Hill has lost out on more than $160 million it was entitled to under SFRA. It will never recover this money.
While Cherry Hill has been underfunded, many districts in NJ (roughly one third) have been overfunded, according to the SFRA formula. Districts like Washington Township, Toms River, Brick, Freehold, Lenape Regional and Eastern Regional all have received more than their fair share of funding.
When the formula was first implemented, those overfunded districts were given adjustment aid to help them transition to their allotted funding amounts. However, this excess aid was never phased out as planned.
In 2018, the Legislature passed a law (S2) to distribute education funds more equitably. Over the course of seven years, aid to overfunded districts will be reduced and aid to underfunded districts will be increased. By school year 2024-25, Cherry Hill should receive $29.3 million in state aid.
The overfunded districts are protesting in Trenton and lobbying to overturn this law. They have formed a coalition to challenge this law any way they can.
The Department of Education will not reveal the funding formula used to calculate and allocate state aid to the districts. It claims that the wealth calculations considered part of the formula are proprietary.
Part of the criticism of the overfunded districts is that, because the state has been allocating them more aid than they were due, they have been able to keep their property taxes low. As a result, their taxpayers do not have to pay their fair share of their schools’ budgets.
In Cherry Hill, local taxpayers shoulder almost the entire burden. For the 2019-20 school year, 91.5% of the district budget came from local sources. The state contributed 8.5% of the budget (federal sources were negligible: 0.1% came from Medicaid reimbursements).
In overfunded districts like Washington Township, Toms River, Brick and Eastern Regional, the state covers anywhere from one fifth to one third of their school budgets.
Complicating the issue is the state’s 2% cap on property taxes. Even if these towns wished to raise their property taxes in order to contribute more to their school budgets, they are restricted by law to a 2% tax increase per year. Gov. Murphy vetoed a bill that would have exempted overfunded districts from this restriction.
One key factor as to why Cherry Hill has been underfunded is the notion that Cherry Hill is a wealthy community and can therefore afford the tax burden it has accumulated. This assumption is based on a study done in 2000 assigning Cherry Hill to District Factor Group GH (on a scale rated A to J, with A as the poorest and J the wealthiest). In 20 years, that assessment has not been reevaluated.
In 2019-20, eight out of 19 Cherry Hill schools were Title 1 schools. A school is designated as a Title 1 school when 40% of its students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch. Across the district, 18% of Cherry Hill students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch (up from 15% in 2010).
Cherry Hill also has 2,000 special education students with IEPs, requiring additional funding to appropriately address their educational needs. In 2018-19, Cherry Hill requested $3.6 million from the state for special education; it received $1.8 million in state aid. The actual amount Cherry Hill spent on special education in 2018-19 was $16.9 million. The state covered 10% of Cherry Hill’s special education needs.
Another factor in the inequitable distribution of funds is the change in student populations. Districts like Toms River have experienced drops in enrollment, yet until the passage of S2, they did not see a reduction in funding. While state aid is supposed to follow the child, this has not been followed consistently or fairly.
Fair Funding for CHPS has worked alongside the Fair Funding Action Committee (FFAC), a coalition of underfunded districts that has been instrumental in getting S2 passed in Trenton. The group has been spearheaded by Kingsway and Chesterfield school districts, and it is a powerful voice in the battle on behalf of the underfunded districts.