How the New Jersey and New YorkState School Finance Formulae Create Educational Equity Gaps
The rising power of state government (Fusarelli & Cooper, 2009) over education has grown from the states’ increasing domination of school finance and policy making because of the strings attached to state funding. Legal challenges to funding inequities and disparities led to court decisions such as Serrano v. Priest establishing financial neutrality as the basis for school funding. Subsequent rulings focused on adequacy and required state governments to provide resources to disadvantaged school districts such that the provision of education adequately met their constitutional requirements. States have tried to remedy the disparities among districts with the infusion of incremental state funds, regulation, and new or revised school funding formulae. The courts’ decisions concerning the states’ school funding formulae rely on key provisions of the state constitution in New Jersey and New York. The New Jersey State Constitution provides “for the maintenance of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all children in the state between the ages of five and eighteen years” (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 10) whereas the New York State Constitution has an education clause known as “the Education Article” (Article 11, section 1) which mandates that “the legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools wherein all the children can be educated” (Shrader, 2007, p. 84).
Ladson-Billings (2006) underscores the importance of having state school funding formulae that meet or exceed constitutional requirements with her education debt concept. Ladson-Billings (2006) concept of an education debt refutes the achievement gap notion because it ignores the importance for schools to have the proper financial and human resources with which to achieve proper academic outcomes. The assumption embedded in the achievement gap is that the blame for schools failing to produce equal test score results among minority and majority students is placed on the students and teachers rather than on the unequal distribution of essential educational inputs. Ladson-Billings’ (2006) education debt concept reframes the achievement gap in critical race theory’s (CRT) terms of educational inequality by shifting the paradigm to the equity gaps in school funding.
The educational equity gap is a function of the unequal distribution of educational resources among schools that disenfranchises low income urban school districts especially those with high concentrations of minority and special needs student. This results in continuing educational inequality. Ladson-Billings (2006) explains how closing the educational equity gap by redistributing financial, material, and human resources requires that schools have the necessary capacity to improve the achievement of all students especially those who are racially, ethnically, and economically disadvantaged.
CRTtakes to task school reformers who fail to recognize that property is a powerful determinant of academic advantage. Without a commitment to redesign funding formulas, one of the basic inequities of schooling will remain in place and virtually guarantee the reproduction of the status quo. (Ladson-Billings, 2009, p. 32)
Shifting the paradigm to equalizing school funding for all schools according to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and unique student needs is at the core of the school finance litigation and funding formulae forNew JerseyandNew York.
The judiciary’s heightened role inNew Jerseyschool finance reform began in 1970 when four cities (East Orange,Jersey City,Paterson, andPlainfield) challenged the constitutionality of state’s school funding system, arguing that large wealth based variations in per pupil expenditures across districts deprived students in low-wealth communities of achieving a thorough and efficient education. The large disparities in school funding were a function of large disparities in property tax bases especially among affluent and poor districts. New Jersey’s education finance system had used a guaranteed tax base formula (GTB) to address these disparities that enabled affluent districts to raise disproportionately more property taxes at correspondingly lower tax rates with which to fund their schools at higher levels than poor districts.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Robinson v. Cahill and defined a “thorough and efficient” (T&E) education as one that “Embraces that educational opportunity which is needed in the contemporary setting to equip a child for his role as a citizen and competitor in the labor market” (Robinson I, 1973, p. 295). BecauseNew Jersey’s GTB formula failed to equalize school spending across districts, these inequalities disproportionately disadvantaged poor urban districts from providing at least an adequate education. But the Robinson litigation focused more on the intricacies of the school funding formulae and its resource equalization effects across school districts than on the educational components of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools.
The New Jersey Supreme Court “accepted the legislature’s definition of T&E, the input and process standards included in the state’s school finance reform law – the Public School Education Act of 1975 (more commonly called Chapter 212)” (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 10) and struck down the state’s school funding system in Robinson v. Cahill based on the state constitution’s education clause. These actions culminated in Robinson v. Cahill V in 1976 in which the New Jersey Supreme Court shifted their standard for adequacy from economic disparities to substantial educational content. Goertz and Edwards (1999) explain how spending parity would no longer be the main criteria in the Court’s determining whether a school funding formula was constitutional, “without sufficient resources, other measures of an adequate education will not satisfy the constitutional mandate” (Goertz & Edwards, 1999, p. 10).
The New Jersey Supreme Court used the “thorough and efficient system of free public schools” clause more as a unifying concept to address fiscal resources and the relationship of financial resources to educational outcomes in Robinson v. Cahill while focusing increasingly on “thorough” education in terms of financial and programmatic inputs and outcomes in its Abbott v. Burke decisions. The Court defined the role that school funding plays in enabling a district to provide a thorough and efficient education and “broadened its definition of a T&E education especially as it applied to disadvantaged students in urban communities” in its Abbott rulings (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 11) as Goertz and Weiss explain:
In 1981, five years after the implementation of Chapter 212, the Education Law Center (ELC) challenged the constitutionality of this funding law on behalf of students from four cities (Camden, East Orange, Irvington, and Jersey City). . . . Addressing the court’s new focus on substantive educational opportunities, the plaintiffs charged in this new case, Abbott v. Burke, thatNew Jersey’s education finance system caused not only significant educational expenditure disparities but also vast programmatic differences between poor urban and wealthy suburban school districts. (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 11)
In its Abbott v. Burke decisions, the Court’s ruled that the unequal distribution of financial, material, and human resources inputs resulted in funding disparities among the Abbott and affluent districts that prevented the Abbott school districts from providing a thorough and efficient education.
The Court increasingly raised the threshold for meeting its constitutional standard for a thorough and efficient education in its Abbott rulings. The Court decided in Abbott v. Burke, 1990, the second Abbott case, that spending disparities among the Abbott and affluent districts, especially those with a district factor group (DFG) code of I or J, demonstrated an inadequate level of education in poor urban districts and consequently established the kinds and quality levels of the educational programs, personnel, and facilities in affluent suburban districts as the adequacy standards for poor urban districts. As a result, the Court ordered the state legislature to design a new or revised funding system to equalize spending for the regular education programs among poor urban districts and property rich districts as well as to provide additional funds to meet the special educational needs of urban districts to remedy their disadvantages. This ruling led to the Quality of Education Act (QEA) which replaced the state’s GTB formula with a foundation aid formula. Although the foundation level less the amount raised by a school district at a state equalized tax rate was defined as the minimum spending level, the “maximum foundation budget” (Firestone, Goertz, & Natriello, 1997, p. 27) was defined as the combined amount from all governmental sources (Firestone et al., 1997, p. 28).
The Court declared QEA unconstitutional in Abbott v. Burke III, 1994, because it failed to equalize funding among Abbott and property rich districts as well as to meet the special needs of urban students. The New Jersey State legislature enacted the Comprehensive Educational Improvement and Financing Act of 1996 (CEIFA) that focused more on academic outcomes and established “a set of input standards, such as class size, administrators/teachers per student, schools per district, and types and amount of classroom supplies, services and materials, that are considered to be sufficient to achieve the state content standards” (Goertz & Edwards, 2009, p. 19) in response to the Court’s decision. Baker, Green, and Richards (2008) explain:
The CEIFA defined an adequate education in terms of academic standards and provided funding on the basis of what a hypothetical school district would need to achieve these standards. The CEIFA also provided aid for two supplemental programs designed to address the disadvantages of SNDs: demonstrably effective program aid (DEPA), and early childhood program aid (ECPA). (Baker, Green, & Richards, 2008, p. 158).
But instead of fully funding CEIFA’s school funding formula as required by law, the state froze financial aid to schools at their 2001-02 school year levels regardless of any increases in enrollment, rising costs, and state and federal under funded mandates. The state aid shortfall’s impact was hardest on those districts that were most dependent upon state aid. During the 2005-06 school year the statewide shortfall amounted to $846 million which translated into per pupil shortfalls of approximately $1,627 in non-AbbottDFGA and B districts, $758 inDFGC through H districts, $386DFGI and J districts, and $188 in Abbott districts (Reock, 2007, pp. 1-9). Dr. Reock found that “the state aid freeze caused massive under-funding of many school districts throughout the state, especially poor non-Abbott districts, and contributed to the property tax problem in the state” (Sciarra, 2008, p. 4).
The Court declared CEIFA unconstitutional in Abbott v. Burke IV, 1997, because it neither linked educational outcome standards for all districts nor met the state’s adequacy goals. The Court found that the State ofNew Jersey failed to show how its resource delivery system model underlying the foundation amount was tied to the state’s Core Curriculum Content Standards:
In the absence of documentation demonstrating that the CEIFA model provided sufficient resources to educate students in districts with high concentrations of poverty, the Court required an interim remedy: Abbott districts would receive “parity aid,” or an amount equal to the average regular education per pupil expenditures in the State’s wealthiest districts. (New Jersey Department of Education, 2007, p. 4)
In addition, CEIFA failed to meet the Court’s three fundamental tests of constitutionality:
The Court established a three-prong test of the constitutionality of CEIFA. First, does the law establish standards for defining a thorough and efficient education? Second, does the State provide adequate resources to ensure the achievement of a T&E education? And, third, does the law meet the special needs of disadvantaged urban students? (Goertz & Edwards, 2009, p. 21)
EIFA failed to address the special needs of Abbott districts because its efficient school district model was not based on the characteristics of the Abbott districts. The Court ordered the state to provide parity aid to remedy the unconstitutional funding and educational disparities as well as to equalize per pupil expenditures among affluent and Abbott districts. Although the Court ordered “whole school reform designs” in Abbott v. Burke V, 1998, (Goertz & Edwards, 2009, p. 26) and ruled in Abbott XX, 2009, that the School Finance Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA) was constitutional, Superior Court Judge Doyne, who was appointed as special master by the Court, found that Governor Christie’s school funding reductions “violate the state’s mandate to provide children ‘a thorough and efficient’ education” (Rundquist & Calefati, 2011, p. 1) and, therefore, whether SFRA continues to be found constitutional depends on how the Court rules on Judge Doyne’s findings.
In 1978, several property-poor Long Island, New YorkCity, and other large urban districts combined to challenge the state’s school finance formula in Levittown v. Nyquist because of the funding disparities among their school districts and the state’s property-rich districts. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled “that the state’s constitution guaranteed all New York children an opportunity for a ‘sound basic education’” (Chambers, Levin, & Parrish, 2006, p. 3) based on the New York State Constitution’s education clause, known as the Education Article, which states that “the legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools wherein all the children can be educated” (Shrader, 2007, p. 84) even though the Court found that the constitution did not mandate equal funding. Although the finding in Levittown v. Nyquist was that funding inequities did not violate the state’s Education Article, the Court did not define a sound basic education (Chambers, et al., 2006, p. 3).
The New York State Education Department (NYSED) assembled a task force to define a “sound basic education” in response to the Court’s decision. The task force defined a “sound basic education” in terms of learning standards that resulted in a “state sponsored research and public engagement process culminating in 1996 in the issuance of the Regents Learning Standards” (Chambers, et al., 2006, p. 4). These standards established benchmarks for student achievement in seven academic content areas and ultimately the definition of adequacy “as providing to all students a full opportunity to meet the Regents Learning Standards” (Chambers, et al., 2006, p. 3).
Standards are at the core of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s (CFE) lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New YorkState’s education funding system in CFE v. State of New York, 1993. CFE argued that the state’s school finance system failed to provide students with a sufficient opportunity to receive a state constitutionally guaranteed “sound basic education” particularly inNew York City (Shrader, 2007, p. 84). In CFE I, 1995, the Court of Appeals ruled that the state has an “obligation to provide ‘a sound basic education to all the children of the state,’” including “the basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury” but the Court declared that even adequate facilities and teachers fulfill the state’s responsibility (Shrader, 2007, pp. 84-85). As a result, the Court of Appeals overturned the Appellate Division.
In CFE II, 2001, CFE prevailed in trial court and State Supreme Court Justice DeGrasse declared that “the school funding formula unconstitutional because it failed to supply New York City school children with a ‘sound basic education’ as required” and affirmed the essential components of “a sound basic education” (Shrader, 2007, pp. 85-86). Justice DeGrasse required the State of New York to ensure that all of its public schools provided an equal opportunity for a sound basic education for all of its students, to ensure that all of the Court’s standards were met, and to perform a costing-out study to determine the costs of providing a sound basic education as well as to serve as the basis for a new school finance formula.
In CFE III, 2002, the Appellate Division reversed Justice DeGrasse’s 2001 decision declaring that “Justice DeGrasse exceeded the ‘minimally adequate’ standards stipulated in the Court of Appeals’ 1995 ruling” (Shrader, 2007, p. 88). But in CFE IV, 2003, the New York Court of Appeals overturned the Appellate Court’s decision as it “rejected the state’s argument that it had satisfied its duty to provide a ‘sound basic’ education by providing New York City students with an 8th- or 9th-grade education” (Baker, et al., 2008, p. 157) and, therefore, “New York State’s current educational funding arrangements were definitively determined to be unconstitutional and required to be altered to ensure that school funding is adequate” (Chambers, et al., 2006, p. 4). As a result, in CFE V, 2003, “the New York Court of Appeals commissioned a study to determine the cost of providing an adequate education for New York City” (Baker, et al., 2008, p. 159).
State School Finance Formulae
The driving force behind the School Finance Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA) was the need for a “formulaic remedy for all districts” based on actual community characteristics that could be applied equitably to all school districts and would address the increased funding targeted primarily to Abbott districts as well as the inequities that had resulted from the imbalance of resources among districts (New Jersey Department of Education, 2007, p. 4). SFRA replaced CEIFA and the state’s unique Abbott remedies of parity aid and supplemental funding with one formula because the New Jersey State Supreme Court found CEIFA’s funding provisions unconstitutional. Although SFRA’s formula contains “three major components: equalization aid, categorical aid, and adjustment aid” (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 28), it calculates aid in two ways: “wealth-equalized and categorical” (New Jersey Department of Education, 2007, p. 19).
SFRA’s wealth-equalized aid is allocated according to each district’s ability to raise enough local revenue based on its equalized property valuation and aggregate district income, both of which are indexed using the state wealth multipliers, to support its adequacy budget. The adequacy budget represents the amount of resources necessary for a district to meet state imposed standards or outcomes such as the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) and includes:
- The base amount for elementary, middle, and high school students
- The weights for at-risk and limited English proficiency (LEP) and county vocational students
- Two-thirds of the census-based costs for the general special education category
- All of the census-based costs for speech (New Jersey Department of Education, 2007, p. 19)
New Jersey’s adequacy based school funding formula seems to have been developed in response to the Court’s demands for “standard-based reforms” that “have ‘judicially manageable’ tools that allow them to devise effective remedial orders” (Rebell, 2002, p. 219).
Equalization aid is calculated using a “foundation formula based on an ‘adequacy budget’” which includes “funding for the regular education program and costs for student poverty (“at-risk” aid), limited English proficiency (LEP) students, and special education services” (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 28). A district’s adequacy budget, therefore, equals the amount calculated according to the following formula:
A district’s adequacy budget equals the total of all of the base student costs plus at-risk student costs plus LEP student costs plus the combined costs of all LEP students who are also eligible for free or reduced-price lunch plus the special education census-based costs that are wealth-equalized together times the Geographic Cost Adjustment (GCA). (New Jersey Department of Education, 2007, pp. 19-20)
In contrast to wealth-equalized aid, categorical aid is not based on a district’s ability to levy local property taxes but is determined by multiplying the cost factor for a particular category by the number of students that qualify for the aid (New Jersey Department of Education, 2007, p. 19). The purpose of SFRA’s adjustment aid is to hold districts harmless but only in the short term:
Adjustment aid is a save-harmless program for districts that receive less state aid under SFRA than they did in 2007-2008, particularly Abbott districts where state approved expenditures exceeded their SFRA adequacy budgets. For 2008-09, the state guarantees that all districts will receive a minimum of 102% of their 2007- 08 state aid. Adjustment aid will be reduced in the out-years as equalization and categorical aids grow. (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 28)
A district’s state aid allocation equals the amount calculated according to the following formula: state aid equals a district’s adequacy budget amount less the district’s local fair share amount to which the district’s amount of categorical aid is added (New Jersey Department of Education, 2007, p. 25).
SFRA’s impact on the Abbott districts was significant because it eliminated the Abbott’s special needs district designation and rescinded the Court prescribed remedies such as requiring spending parity with affluent districts and providing additional funding for supplemental programs. Although SFRA maintained the Abbott districts’ facilities aid, it increased:
The “fair share” or expected local tax revenues from the Abbott districts. The local share attributed to Abbott districts under SFRA is nearly double what they currently raise in local taxes. . . . This provision overrides the court’s requirement that increases in local revenues be limited due to high levels of municipal overburden in these districts. (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 31)
Abbott districts received less equalization aid as a result of having to raise their required local fair share even though Abbott districts were prevented from levying the necessary amount of property taxes to raise their local fair share beyond a four percent increase (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 31). Although SFRA benefited most low and middle income non-Abbott districts but only if these districts also increased their local property tax levies by the four percent state maximum, most high income districts with DFGcode I or J lost aid especially “categorical aid for special needs students” as a result of SFRA’s wealth equalizing (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 32). The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Abbott XX, 2009, that “SFRA provides the appropriate ‘measuring stick’ against which to gauge the resources needed to achieve a thorough and efficient education for every child in the state” (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 35).
The conceptual framework that has framed school finance inNew YorkStateis focused on achieving adequacy. This conceptual framework is based on trying to achieve wealth and need equalization among school districts. To meet this definition of adequacy,New YorkStateuses the Regents Learning Standards as the barometer against which to determine whether a district is meeting its adequacy requirements as established by the school finance formula. This adequacy concept focuses on the provision of an adequate education that equalizes outcomes rather than inputs so that all students will have an equal opportunity to receive an education which meets or exceeds state standards. The rationale undergirding the adequacy concept is that a district’s financial resources should be sufficient and adjusted for cost variations beyond a local school district’s control to enable the district to meet or exceed the adequacy standards and to provide an opportunity for all students to meet the Regents Learning Standards.
TheNew YorkStateschool finance formula is similar to the SFRA formula in terms of the ways in which it distributes aid: flat grants, wealth-equalized aid, and effort or expense-based aid. Wealth equalized aid is distributed by the state “in inverse proportion to local fiscal capacity to offset dramatic differences in the ability of school districts to raise local revenues” and in terms of an equalized per pupil amount while expense-based aid is based on the state share of a district’s actual approved spending (University of the State of New York & The New York State Education Department, 2010, p. 9). Although flat grants per pupil distribute the same amount of state aid per pupil in every district and this aid is not wealth equalized while lump-sum grants are distributed progressively based a district’s total property value and income, the New York State school finance formula’s aid relies on a foundation amount. Total foundation aid equals selected foundation aid (a district’s foundation aid per pupil but not less than $500) times selected Total Aidable Foundation Pupil Units (TAFPU) (University of the State of New York & The New York State Education Department, 2010, p. 21). This aid is based on the cost of providing general education services, compared to the instructional costs of a successful school district, and is adjusted annually for the percentage increase in the consumer price index (CPI) (University of the State of New York & The New York State Education Department, 2010, p. 21).
The New York State School Tax Relief (NYSTAR) program, enacted on August 7, 1997, as the New York State Real Property Tax Law, is a school property tax rebate program that is designed to lower local school property taxes and, in particular, the tax price of school property taxes with the intention of causing local school districts to increase their spending and, thereby, the level of the educational programs and services that they provide. NYSTAR providesNew Yorkhomeowners with a partial exemption of a portion of their school property taxes as levied only on owner-occupied primary residences. The school district will continue to receive the same amount of property tax revenue because New York State reimburses the district to make up for what would otherwise be lost revenue as a result of the rebate as long as the district maintains the existing tax rate.
The NYSTAR program has two types of exemptions: Basic NYSTAR and Enhanced NYSTAR.
Basic NYSTAR is available for owner-occupied, primary residences where the owner’s total income is less than $500,000. Basic NYSTAR works by exempting the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes. . . . Enhanced NYSTAR provides an increased benefit for the primary residences of senior citizens (age 65 and older) with qualifying incomes. For qualifying seniors, Enhanced NYSTAR exempts the first $60,100 of the full value of their home from school taxes. (New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, 2011, p. 1)
Baker (2011b) concludes that NYSTAR aid is allocated inequitably and disproportionately benefitsNew YorkState’s affluent school districts:
- That STAR aid in particular is allocated to more affluent downstate school districts;
- ThatSTARaid, by reducing the price to local homeowners of raising an additional dollar in taxes to their schools, encouraged increased local spending on schools;
- That when the relative efficiency of school districts is measured in terms of increases in measured test scores, given additional dollars spent,STARaid appears to have encouraged less efficient spending. STARaid enabled affluent suburban districts to spend on other things not directly associated with measured outcomes, but things those communities still desired for their schools.
- ThatSTARaid contributes to inequities across districts in a system that is already highly inequitable. (Baker, 2011b, p. 3)
The homeowner’s property value is reduced by the amount of the NYSTAR exemption and then divided by an equalization rate. New YorkState’s equalization rate equals the ratio of the homeowner’s total assessed property value less the NYSTAR exemption divided by the homeowner’s total market value whereby the district’s host municipality determines assessed property values andNew YorkStatedetermines market values. NYSTAR is, therefore, a state funded school property tax exemption which makes NYSTAR a state school financial aid program.
A district’s foundation aid equals its foundation amount times the Pupil Need Index (PNI) times the Regional Cost Index (RCI) all combined, less its expected minimum local contribution or what would be referred to as their local fair share inNew Jersey. The RCI reflects regional variations in purchasing power aroundNew YorkStatebased on the wages of non-school professionals. The PNI reflects the costs of providing extra time and help for disadvantaged and special needs students to succeed. PNI equals one plus the district’s Extraordinary Needs (EN) percentage and ranges between one and two. The PNI adjustments are based on a school district’s concentrations of at-risk and disadvantaged students (University of the State of New York & The New York State Education Department, 2010, pp. 21-22). The expected minimum local contribution is an amount that a district is expected to raise on its own and spend as its share of the total cost of general education which equals the lesser of the two following calculations:
- The selected actual value per pupil times a tax factor of 0.0137 times income per pupil relative to the state average which is capped between 0.65 and 2.00.
- The district’s foundation amount times its PNI times its RCI all together times one minus its Foundation Aid State Sharing Ratio.
The foundation aid state sharing ratio compares a district’s wealth measures to the state average wealth measures. It is computed by calculating the district’s Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR) that is a measure of district’s fiscal capacity. A district’s CWR is calculated by multiplying a district’s actual property value per pupil and then dividing this amount by $564,900 which is then multiplied by 0.50. This amount is then added to the total of the district’s income per pupil which is divided by $177,200 and then multiplied by 0.50 (University of the State of New York & The New York State Education Department, 2010, pp. 24-27). The state sharing ratio is the state aid to local fiscal capacity ratio which is inversely related to a district’s wealth as compared to the state average and this ratio is multiplied by 1.05 only for high need/resource capacity districts (University of the State of New York & The New York State Education Department, 2010, p. 25).
State Finance Formulae Data
The New Jersey school finance formula, SFRA, distributes aid to school districts primarily through a foundation formula. Aid calculations are based on a per pupil adequacy budget developed by the state that represents what the state believes each district should spend to provide the level of education necessary for its students to meet or exceed the state’s educational standards as contained in the CCCS. SFRA adjusts the per pupil baseline amount by applying weighting factors to account for the additional costs of educating students with disadvantages and special needs. These weights are then multiplied by the number of students who qualify for those need categories within the district and by a regional cost adjustment factor in ways similar to those employed inNew YorkState. The per pupil baseline amount reflects the cost to educate a typical elementary school student and has a weighting factor of one. The weights increase for students enrolled in middle, high, and vocational school as well as for those students living in poverty.
A district’s adequacy budget is funded by both local district and state revenues. A district’s local fair share is the amount the formula dictates that the district must contribute toward funding its adequacy budget. The local fair share is based on the formula’s calculation of a district’s total income and property values or wealth as compared to those measures for other districts across the state which resembles the calculations of theNew Yorkschool finance formula for similar components. The formula attempts to equalize property values, personal income, and local property tax burdens by calculating state aid based on the wealth and the local fair share of each district. The formula deducts a district’s local fair share from its adequacy budget to determine the amount of state aid the district receives that is referred to as the district’s equalization aid. A district, however, only receives state equalization aid if its local fair share is less than its adequacy budget and it receives no state equalization aid if its local fair share is greater than its adequacy budget.
The formula compares a district’s current spending level with its per pupil adequacy budget. Although a district may spend more than its adequacy budget amount, state aid increases are capped at 10% for districts spending more than their adequacy budgets as compared to a 20% cap on those districts that are under spending their adequacy budgets. The formula requires a district to increase its property tax levies if it is falling short of providing its local fair share. A district that is over spending its adequacy budget amount and whose local property tax revenues exceed its adequacy budget is subject to the two percent giveback provision. In this case, the district is required to apply the amount of its state aid increase that exceeds two percent toward local property tax relief. But districts that are under spending their adequacy budgets are not subject to the two percent giveback provision.
The percentage of students receiving a free or reduced price lunch is regarded as a reliable indicator of a school district’s students’ economic need, disadvantage, or poverty level. Graph one (see Appendix A) shows the relationship of total state aid, as determined by the foundation formula, to the percentage of students who receive a free or reduced price lunch for all New Jersey school districts. This graph shows a relatively flat distribution of state aid relative to the percentage of a district’s students who receive a free or reduced price lunch until the 40% level is reached when the upward slope of the distribution of state aid becomes rather positive through the 80% level. Although there seems to be fewer districts having a percentage of students who receive a free or reduced price lunch that exceeds 40%, the sharp upward slope beginning at the 40% level seems to indicate that the formula becomes more sensitive to districts with extremely high concentrations of students who live in poverty or near the poverty level.
SFRA seems to provide much more categorical state aid for at-risk students and students with special needs such as those who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch, special education, as LEP or English language learners (ELL), or are economically disadvantaged especially for those districts with high concentrations of students with these characteristics. Affluent districts receive categorical state aid for at-risk students and students with special needs to the extent that their student populations meet the formula’s criteria, however, two-thirds of all state special education aid and all of the state’s at-risk student aid is included within the formula’s foundation per pupil amount and is thereby subject to the formula’s district wealth equalization process. It could be argued, therefore, that those districts with high concentrations of students receiving a free or reduced price lunch are also high poverty districts because affluent districts seem to have proportionately fewer students receiving a free or reduced price lunch, qualifying for special education, are LEP or ELL, or are living in or around the poverty level. Also, state aid to affluent districts is wealth equalized which seems to indicate that affluent districts receive proportionately less categorical aid and formula foundation aid for at-risk students and students with special needs than poor districts.
Graph two (see Appendix B) shows the relationship of total state aid, as determined by the foundation formula, to the base cost per pupil adjusted for the student’s grade level. This graph shows a relatively flat distribution of state aid despite a number of outliers below $12,000 relative to the base cost per pupil which does not seem to indicate a meaningful relationship. Although there are a number of outlying districts receiving higher amounts of state aid between the levels of roughly $10,000 and $11,000 base cost per pupil, the relatively flat distribution of state aid may result from the fact that total state aid incorporates the base cost in its formulaic calculations. Also, because the total state aid plots do not reflect which districts are over spending their adequacy budget amounts, have local property tax revenues that exceed their adequacy budgets, and as a result are required to apply the amount of their state aid increase that exceeds two percent toward local property tax relief, total state aid levels for these affluent districts could be overstated because a significant portion of their state aid is not applied to their district’s schools. These factors seem to combine to make the graph less meaningful.
Graphs three and four (see Appendices C and D) for all New Jersey school districts showing the relationship of district income per pupil and property value per pupil respectively to the percentage of students receiving a free or reduced price lunch show a distinctly flat distribution, despite a few affluent district outliers without students who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch, relative to the student poverty or economic need factor. Graphs five, six, and seven (see Appendices E, F, and G) for all New Jersey school districts showing the relationship of local fair share, aggregate income, and a district’s 2009 fiscal year property tax revenues respectively to the percentage of students receiving a free or reduced price lunch show a rather disbursed distribution relative to the student poverty or economic need factor. There does not seem to be a meaningful relationship among these variables.
Graphs eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve (see Appendices H, I, J, K, and L) for all New Jersey school districts showing the relationship of income per pupil, property value per pupil, local fair share, aggregate income, and a district’s 2009 fiscal year property tax revenues respectively to the base cost per pupil adjusted for the student’s grade level do not seem to show meaningful relationships. A possible explanation for the relative lack of significant distributions in graphs three through twelve is that the formula may have a disproportionately high threshold for districts to receive state aid especially categorical aid for students who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch, special education, as LEP or ELL, as economically disadvantaged, or as otherwise at-risk which in turn results in a higher local fair share calculation. In addition, SFRA’s use of income in the calculation of a district’s local fair share and measure of wealth distorts state aid distributions such that it disadvantages those districts that are income-rich relative to the state average for income but property-poor relative to the state average of equalized property valuation.
Although theNew YorkStateschool finance formula seems conceptually simple, its structure is complex which makes understanding and applying the formula challenging especially in terms of providing an equitable distribution of state aid. The majority of state aid is determined by a statewide formula that calculates a foundation aid amount for each district. A district’s foundation aid amount consists of the cost of educating a pupil or the Adjusted Foundation and the cost to the district or the Expected Minimum Local Contribution (EMLC). New YorkStateuses these components in an attempt to equalize state aid based on a district’s wealth and pupil need. The NYSED analyzes the general and special education costs in successful school districts to calculate a district’s foundation aid amount that approximates the average per pupil cost of typical successful school districts’ educational instruction.
Foundation aid is based on an enrollment measure called the Average Daily Membership (ADM) that is the maximum possible daily attendance of all students in a district divided by the number of days in which the district’s schools are operating. The foundation aid amount is calculated by using two specific measures of enrollment: TAFPU and Total Wealth Foundation Pupil Units (TWFPU). TAFPU is a weighted pupil count that is used to calculate the Adjusted Foundation. The NYSED uses different weights for different levels and types of student need such as 1.41 for students with disabilities, 0.50 for students declassified from special education, and 0.12 for students attending summer school. TWFPU is a weighted pupil count that is used to calculate the EMLC to determine a district’s relative wealth. TWFPU equals the district’s students’ADMincluding half day Kindergarten students weighted at 0.5 plus the full time equivalent number of resident students attending other public school districts less the district’s number of nonresident students and special education students attending BOCES.
A district’s Adjusted Foundation is the formulaic calculation of the estimated cost of educating a student in a typicalNew Yorksuccessful school district that is adjusted for the costs of unique student needs by applying the PNI and regional cost differences through the application of the RCI. A district’s EMLC is the portion of the district’s total educational cost that is funded by the district according to the state’s formula. The EMLC is based on a number of wealth factors including the Income Wealth Index (IWI) that is based on a district’s adjusted gross income for the calendar year per TWFPU and is multiplied by the state Adjusted Statewide Average School Tax Rate.
IWI is a district’s average income per student compared to the statewide average income per student. The IWI can be neither below 0.65 nor above 2.00. The flaw inherent in IWI is that the formula treats those districts whose IWI is actually less than 0.65 as if their IWI equaled 0.65 because the formula does not allow the IWI to fall below 0.65. The most economically disadvantaged districts in the state lose aid as a result of this flaw in the IWI. Also, the RCI is not as robust as the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) which causes many of the state’s most economically disadvantaged districts to lose aid they would otherwise receive if the GCEI were used instead. A district’s EMLC is subtracted from its gross foundation aid amount after the gross foundation aid amount is multiplied by the RCI and PNI because a district’s EMLC equals a loss of state aid based on the district’s wealth relative to other districts in the state.
The foundation aid amount or the baseline state aid incorporates a number of pupil need based expenditure adjustments. A district’s foundation aid amount is adjusted for such factors as its pupil need and number of pupils living in poverty or significant economic disadvantage. Pupil need is determined by the PNI which is based on a district’s poverty and census data. PNI calculates a district’s number of students with extraordinary needs such as those who qualify for free or reduced price lunches, are LEP, or meet the Census’ poverty requirements because they are so economically disadvantaged and are ages five to seventeen.
Duncombe and Yinger (2004, “Cost Indexes,” para. 2) use a two-year average of the number of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches because this “variable fluctuates from year to year,” meet the Census’ poverty requirements, and are ages five to seventeen. Duncombe and Yinger (2004) explain the distinctions among the two primary measures of a student’s economic disadvantage: qualifying for a free or reduced price lunch and living in poverty aged five to seventeen as well as having LEP.
Although these two variables are correlated, they are by no means identical. . . . Moreover, the two variables have different strengths and weaknesses. The Census poverty variable has the desirable feature that it cannot be manipulated by school officials, but it is not available every year, it is often excluded from data bases maintained by state education departments, and we have no evidence about its accuracy in years not covered by a decennial census. The subsidized lunch variable has the advantages that it is available every year, is included in many state data bases, and covers a broader population than does the poverty variable. This variable has the disadvantage, however, that it reflects parental participation decisions, and perhaps even school management policies. Given these contrasting strengths and weaknesses, we do not believe that either variable dominates the other . . . One final difference between the two variables arises when another measure of student disadvantage, the share of students with limited English proficiency (LEP), is added to the cost model. . . . this LEP variable is highly significant in cost models that include the census poverty variable. In contrast, this variable is not close to significant in models that include the subsidized lunch variable. Thus, in case ofNew York, the subsidized lunch variable appears to capture the cost effects both of poverty and of LEP . . . (Duncombe & Yinger, 2004, “Cost Indexes,” paras. 3-4)
Although the percentage of students eligible for a free or reduced price lunch is a commonly used indicator of a school district’s economic disadvantage or need, because New York State’s formula does not provide aid to offset the full cost of students participating in the free or reduced price lunch program poor districts receive disproportionately less state aid.
The graph for allNew Yorkschool districts showing the relationship of foundation aid to the percentage of students who receive a free or reduced price lunch has an upward, positive slope. Graph thirteen (see Appendix M) shows that the level of a district’s foundation aid seems to increase as the percentage of students who receive a free or reduced price lunch increases. Graph fourteen (see Appendix N) showing the relationship of foundation aid to PNI has an even more significant, positive, and upward slope than the relationship shown in graph thirteen perhaps because PNI is a broader measure of student need. Although the values of PNI can range only between one and two, PNI is a more inclusive measure of student need because it is based on a district’s concentrations of at-risk and disadvantaged students.
Although graph fifteen (see Appendix O) showing the relationship of foundation aid to the census poverty rate has a generally positive, upward slope, the points are much more tightly bunched especially in the five to fifteen percent poverty rate range and, therefore, may not reflect a significant or systematic relationship. PNI covers a broader population than does the census poverty rate and this may contribute to the distribution of points that shows an extremely wide range of foundation aid being provided to low poverty districts such as those with a poverty rate of approximately 15%. Graph sixteen (see Appendix P) showing the relationship of foundation aid to the pupil need component per free and reduced price lunch plus LEP student seems to be so tightly bunched that it does not provide a meaningful relationship perhaps because the percentage of LEP students by district varies tremendously.
The amount of foundation aid provided at a given level of pupil need seems to show that many more districts are receiving a great deal more aid than those with the same level of need which indicates that the distribution of foundation aid is regressive. Baker (2011a) discusses theNew YorkStateschool finance formula’s inequitable distribution of aid:
Like many state funding formulas, even though the first (and most logical) iteration of calculations for estimating the district state share of funding would end up providing 0% state aid to many districts, those formulas include a floor of funding – minimum guarantee of state aid. . . . Here, for example, is the effect of New YorkState’s minimum threshold factor on foundation aid. State share hits 0 at an income/wealth index around 1.0 in the basic calculation. . . . First, between income/wealth ratios of about 1.0 to 2.0, the actual state share cuts the corner providing more gradually declining aid rather than going straight to 0. Then, above IWI of 2.0 it never hits 0, but rather levels off providing a minimum allotment of several hundred to about $1,000 per pupil to even the wealthiest districts in the state (which, by the way, are among the wealthiest in the nation!). . . . Many state aid formulas include a variety of other types of aid, some which are distributed in flat amounts across all districts regardless of need, and some which may be even allocated in inverse proportion to what most would consider needs – either local capacity related needs or educational programming and student needs. Such is the politics of school finance. . . . New YorkState’s piece de resistance is a program calledSTAR, or School Tax Relief program. In simple terms,STAR provides state aid in disproportionate amounts to wealthy communities to support property tax relief. . . . ExcludingSTAR aid to NYC, the aid program in 2008-09 provided $642 million in aid to districts with an income/wealth ratio over 1.0.! . . . Note that our recent report on school funding fairness … identifiedNew YorkState (along withIllinois andPennsylvania) as having one of the most regressively financed systems in the nation. On average, low poverty districts have greater state and local revenue than higher poverty ones, yet the state is still allocating significant sums of aid to low poverty districts! . . . many of these wealthier communities are picking up millions inSTAR aid and upwards to a thousand dollars per pupil in basic foundation aid. Yes, the state is subsidizing the spending – quite significantly – of some of the wealthiest districts in the nation, while maintaining a regressive system as a whole. (Baker, 2011a, pp. 5-8)
New YorkState’s use of foundation aid is highly regressive.
TheNew YorkStateformula uses a district’s CWR which is the ratio of a district’s per pupil income and property wealth to the state average for each variable that is calculated to determine a district’s wealth relative to other districts. TheNew YorkStateformula uses CWR to wealth equalize district state aid. The CWR not only measures a district’s wealth but also determines a district’s ability to fund its school system relative to other districts in the state. An average wealth district, therefore, will have a CWR equal to a value of one while more affluent districts will have a CWR greater than one and economically disadvantaged districts will have a CWR less than one.
The CWR is used to determine a district’s sharing ratio that is included within the calculation of a district’s foundation aid, is the proportion of the State’s aid contribution, and equals the formula of one minus the district’s wealth measure (i.e., CWR) divided by the state average times the district’s local contribution percentage. Although CWR measures a district’s wealth using the actual valuation of the district’s property and income, it does not fully account for unusual circumstances or fluctuations in a district’s property valuation or income such as during times when the state averages for property wealth and income decrease while the district’s wealth and income remain unchanged. This would cause the district’s CWR to increase relative to the state averages causing the district to receive less state aid despite the fact that the district’s wealth and income levels remained the same.
Graphs seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen (see Appendices Q, R, and S) for all New York State school districts showing the relationship of total state aid to the percentage of students receiving a free or reduced price lunch, PNI, and the census poverty rate respectively show a significant flat or slightly negatively sloped distribution of state aid relative to the student need factors despite some outliers. Also, graphs twenty, twenty-one, and twenty-two (see Appendices T, U, and V) for all New York State school districts showing the relationship of CWR to the percentage of students receiving a free or reduced price lunch, PNI, and the census poverty rate respectively show a significant flat or slightly negatively sloped distribution of state aid relative to the student need factors. There does not seem to be a meaningful relationship of total state aid and CWR respectively to the pupil need component per free and reduced price lunch plus LEP student because graphs twenty-three and twenty-four (see Appendices W and X) show a tightly bunched and almost flat to declining pattern.
The flat to slightly negatively sloped distribution of total New York State aid as well as the distribution of district wealth and income relative to the respective state averages for wealth and income as compared to the measures of student need and poverty leads to the conclusion that the amount of combined state and local revenues funding high student need or poverty school districts is disproportionately less than the total revenues funding low poverty or affluent school districts. These disparities in the distribution of state aid cause inequities in the provision of a quality education across school districts. The distribution of total state aid, therefore, is regressive because it includes NYSTAR aid and does not effectively equalize wealth or income among school districts. The NYSTAR aid program is the antithesis of an equitable state aid distribution system based on wealth and income equalization. TheNew YorkStateschool finance formula causes large, urban, economically disadvantaged school districts to receive significantly less state aid than they would have otherwise received with a progressive distribution.
Although the school funding formulae for New Jersey and New York are largely the result of years of litigation brought primarily by members and representatives of disadvantaged students and schools, the formulae for both states have adequacy as their goal. SFRA and theNew Yorkschool finance formula are similar in terms of the types of aid the state distributes such as foundation, wealth equalization, categorical, and specific adjustment aid. Both states use standards as the barometer against which to determine whether a district is meeting its adequacy requirements as established by the state school funding formula. New Jerseycompares a district’s educational outcomes to the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) whileNew YorkStateuses the Regents Learning Standards.
But both states’ formulae have components that are readily subject to manipulation. New Jersey’s cost indices and its formulaic restrictions on the Abbott districts’ equalization aid are easily politically manipulated. A number of these manipulations are manifested in SFRA’s provisions that require the Abbott districts to raise their required local fair share despite the fact that the state prevented the Abbott districts from levying the necessary amount of property taxes to raise their local fair share beyond a four percent increase which resulted in an overall reduction of state aid for the Abbott districts (Goertz & Weiss, 2009, p. 31). SFRA raised the threshold that defines the level of need especially for students who are at-risk or otherwise disadvantaged which also contributed to a reduction of aid especially for large, urban, poor districts because these districts typically have disproportionately high levels of special needs students.
Although SFRA’s local fair share calculation was designed in principle to compel school districts to adopt the state average equalized property tax rate in an attempt to equalize property wealth statewide and establish equalized district property values as the basis for a district’s ability to fund its school system based on local property taxes, SFRA uses a district’s income and not just a district’s equalized property values as the only or primary measure of a district’s ability to fund its local schools when it calculates a district’s local fair share. SFRA’s reliance on income in the calculation of a district’s local fair share and measure of wealth shifts the distribution of aid disproportionately away from districts having lower income but higher assessed property values as compared to the state averages for each variable. This causes SFRA to determine that these districts are artificially wealthier than their actual level of resources and, thereby, to calculate a disproportionately higher local fair share for these districts than would otherwise be the case if a district’s equalized property values were the only measure of a district’s ability to fund its local schools. This reinforces inequities in the state equalized property assessments and the over reliance on local property taxes as the primary basis for funding local school systems that undergird SFRA’s aid calculations.
New York’s foundation funding level is generated by the state aid formula as derived from an adequacy filter based upon a successful school district approach. Although Baker (2011a) focuses on high school education, his description of the shortcomings of theNew YorkStateschool finance formula apply equally to all levels of schooling inNew YorkState:
- Either in terms of the analytic approach used (successful school districts) or foundation level adopted in policy, the current foundation funding level in the state aid formula is not grounded in any real estimate of the cost of providing meaningful high school education.
- I explain that the application of the “efficiency” filter based on statewide median spending among successful districts, was arbitrary and I show that this arbitrary decision has the effect of applying different efficiency requirements on downstate and upstate districts – a grossly inequitable assumption.
- Taking the lower half spending successful districts statewide leads to inclusion of 100% successful districts in some upstate and westernNew Yorkregions, but includes only 1/5 to less than 1/3 of downstate districts.
- Taking the lower half districts statewide rather than by region (RCI region) inappropriately reduces the foundation amount for downstate districts by about 20%.
- Arbitrarily altering the steps of successful schools analysis creates large swings in estimated foundation levels, especially for downstate districts, calling into question the usefulness of the approach.
- As originally explained by Baker, Taylor and Vedlitz (2004) successful school districts analysis is highly suspect and easily politically manipulated to generate desired foundation levels. Successful schools analysis is not a credible method for estimating the costs of meeting empirically defined standards, or constitutional standards.
- Further, the weighting scheme that leads to the Pupil Need Index (PNI) is not grounded in any empirical analysis of the costs of providing meaningful high school education to populations of varied needs. (Baker, 2011)
Funding gaps in the adequacy of educational inputs result in concomitant gaps in student achievement and educational outcomes especially in under funded and large, urban, poor school districts inNew Jerseyand particularly inNew YorkState.
Although the courts in New Jersey and New York State have frequently declared each state’s formula for financing its public schools unconstitutional, each state’s declared educational mission is to enable its public schools to provide at least an adequate education to all students statewide. As a result of many court rulings in both states, New Jersey and New York State have wrestled with how best to define the content of an adequate education, calculate formulaically the level of spending necessary to provide an adequate education based on the unique needs, costs, and resources of each district, and the appropriate measures of educational outcomes so as to determine whether a district is achieving its adequacy goals. In response to the many court rulings on their state school finance formulae, New Jersey and New York State primarily use a foundation aid approach that establishes a targeted district spending level which the state deems necessary to meet state adequacy goals and subsidizes to the extent that a district’s local fair share or local minimum contribution is below the state formula’s respective minimum target level. In this way, both states attempt to address the disparities and inequities in school district spending and funding that are primarily a result of differences in local property tax bases and revenues.
Achieving educational adequacy means enabling all of the students within a state to meet or exceed the educational outcome standards established by the state. Although defining educational adequacy in this way is a worthy goal and is theoretically sound, the major obstacles preventing New Jersey and New York State from accomplishing this mission are found in the ways in which each state’s school finance formula is structured, interpreted, and implemented especially in New York State. The problems inherent in each state’s school finance formula, therefore, could result in the following:
In the aggregate, a state’s education system could be deemed adequate merely on the basis that a sufficient number of students overall achieve an adequate educational outcome – for example, 80% of all students, statewide scoring proficient or higher on state assessments. That is, adequacy, in isolation means only that a sufficient number of students perform sufficiently well, regardless of who may or may not be left out and regardless of the extent that some children far exceed the “adequacy” threshold. Significant equity concerns may arise when statewide adequacy is the exclusive focus. . . . At the intersection of educational adequacy and equal opportunity lies the notion that all children, regardless of their individual differences or where they attend school in a state are deserving of equal opportunity to achieve adequate educational outcomes. . . . Where equal educational opportunity provides that each child have equal opportunity to achieve any given set of outcomes, equal opportunity linked with adequacy provides that each child have equal opportunity to achieve a specific set of adequate educational outcomes. (Baker, 2011)
In conclusion, there is a fundamental problem with theNew JerseyandNew YorkStateschool finance formulae. Furthermore, it is most likely that this problem will disproportionately affect those students attending the state’s large, urban, poor or otherwise socio-economically disadvantaged school districts. The major problem is that even if New Jersey and New York State ultimately achieve their adequacy goals, both states will most likely have supported a level of education that is inadequate in terms of providing all students with the skills necessary for success in adult life rather than providing a quality education that meets not only the declared principles that underlie state standards but also the unique needs and priorities of every student statewide.
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