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N.J.’s raging school funding debate: What your next governor would do

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By Matt Arco | NJ Advance Media for
Updated June 01, 2017
Posted June 01, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie once took a hard line when it comes to the way the state funds its public schools: Spend the same amount — $6,599 — per pupil in every district. He promised it would lower property taxes, but opponents say it would decimate urban schools that lean on the state for support.

His proposal, dubbed the “fairness formula,” was considered dead on arrival by the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature, which is now squabbling over a new plan.

New Jersey funds its public schools through a formula passed in 2008 that determines how much each district needs to spend and considers each community’s ability to raise revenue through property taxes. More state aid goes to poorer districts.

New Jersey spends big on education, but Christie has regularly underfunded this formula for school aid by about $1 billion annually, forcing budget cuts and higher property taxes in some districts.

The school funding problem will pass on to the next governor in January. Here’s what the Republicans and Democrats seeking to succeed Christie would do.

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Depending on whose math you follow, districts could be in line for $1 billion to $2 billion

In his final year in office, Gov. Chris Christie set a deadline of early June for reaching a compromise with the Legislature about school funding — and offered to sit down with lawmakers to hammer out a compromise.

But halfway through his 100-day challenge, little has happened — at least publicly. In the meantime, the administration has been forced to release details about the $1 billion or more at stake for districts in the debate.

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Superintendent no longer willing to wait for Legislature to fix the problem, says ‘We are going to become the aggressor on this issue’

Kingsway superintendent James Lavender and other school officials announce their legal challenge to New Jersey’s school-aid formula.

School officials in communities all over New Jersey have complained for years about state education-funding inequities, and now lawmakers are holding a series of hearings on the issue — giving clear indications that they plan to address the school-aid problems in the next state budget.

But that new spending plan won’t go into effect until July, and officials representing the Kingsway Regional School District in South Jersey say they can no longer wait on the State House to fix a system that is shorting their students more than $11 million in state aid this year.

Instead, Kingsway regional superintendent James Lavender said district attorneys will be filing a legal brief this week with the state Supreme Court as they attempt to join a new phase of school-aid litigation that Gov. Chris Christie has been seeking to initiate since last year. But unlike Christie, who wants a complete overhaul of the state school-aid law that was enacted in 2008, the Kingsway district is instead pushing only for the invalidation of a “hold harmless” provision that for years has allowed some districts to avoid losing school aid even as others, including Kingsway, have been shortchanged.

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Showdown looming over school funding formula

Sweeney & Prieto

Nicholas Pugliese , State House Bureau, @nickpugzPublished 6:42 p.m. ET Jan. 13, 2017 | Updated 2:59 a.m. ET Jan. 14, 2017

Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto lobbed news releases back and forth this week urging each other to get serious about reforming the state’s school funding formula.

In the meantime, they announced separate, uncoordinated Senate and Assembly hearings to collect testimony that would form the basis for legislation to fix the current system, which is widely acknowledged to give unequal treatment to students and taxpayers in different parts of the state. Assembly hearings begin Wednesday; Senate hearings begin Jan. 27.

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N.J. school aid formula is flawed for pre-K, special ed, audit says

home alone

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for
on September 22, 2016 at 1:45 PM

TRENTON — As New Jersey politicians debate changing the state’s formula for funding public schools, a new state audit has highlighted some specific flaws in the current system.

The report, released Wednesday by State Auditor Stephen Eells, shows that schools are both underfunded and overfunded in some respects based on the current model.

Among the problems identified are outdated data, inaccurate pre-K enrollments and an inadequate system for funding special education.

Here’s a look at three of the major findings from the review of school funding and the auditor’s suggestions for addressing the issues:

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Governor Chris Christie Moves to Break the Cycle of Educational Failure in the Abbott Districts

School Choice by ArtChick
file photo by ArtChick
September 16,2016

the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Trenton NJ, Governor Chris Christie announced the Christie administration went to court on behalf of New Jersey taxpayers, to the Supreme Court, to say three things:” First, that this funding formula has failed for 30 years and that it needs to be overturned. Second, that the real thing that’s preventing us from teaching kids in these districts are the ridiculous work rules that are imposed upon us by statute and by collective bargaining agreements with the teachers union that prevents us from doing common sense things like, if there are going to be layoffs in our schools, that we should layoff the least effective teachers, not do layoffs, as we are required to do by state law, based purely upon seniority. If you’re there the longest you get to keep your job. If you’re there the shortest you lose your job. How does that ensure that children are getting a thorough and efficient system of education? And, how is it that in Camden, one of the worst school districts in the state, the union contract requires only four hours and forty five minutes of instruction for every seven and a half hour day that a teacher puts in. Four hours and forty-five minutes of instruction for every seven and a half hour day a teacher puts in. It’s these kinds of work rules and collective bargaining agreements that we are stuck with in this state that prevents these kids from having, in urban districts, that what they really need. Let’s talk about what happens in a lot of these urban districts, what happens is that the family life isn’t there often, to support what you need to do to make sure that your kids do well in school. Now sometimes this is because of broken homes but sometimes it’s in intact homes and because those families are struggling to make ends meet, sometimes those folks have to work three or four jobs to keep a roof over their heads, And when you have to do that you’re not going to be home at 3 o’clock when the kids get home from school. So who’s checking when they’re going to do their homework? Who’s encouraging them to do their reading. Who’s sitting down with them to help them do their math?  It’s not happening. So what should we do? Should we just give up on those kids and give up on those families who out of no fault of their own, are just working 15, 16 hours a day to keep a roof over their head. In those districts, we should have a longer school day. In those districts we should have a longer school year. If those children are falling behind, let’s spend more time with them. That kind of result, we should be willing to pay for. “Gov. Christie On Urban Education: We’re Tired Of Paying For Failure, We Need This System To Change

Christie went on to say, “I’ve had enough of sitting back and waiting. I’ve tried negotiating with the legislature. I’ve tried negotiating with the teacher’s union. I’ve tried every other course, today my patience has run out. For the first time, it’s your governor going to the court and saying enough is enough, on behalf of the people of this state we’re tired of paying for failure we need this system to change, we filed that today and we’re going to fight for you in the Supreme Court rather than have the educational interest being the ones who are always fighting there with her handouts saying they need more of your money. And the fact is no one knows how it is going to go but I’m not going to sit back and be a bystander in this. I want urban education to get better in this state. I want those families to have an opportunity for their children to achieve their fullest potential. I also want your families to be able to continue to live here. “
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Ridgewood Homeowners Could Save $4,200 under Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed school funding overhaul

Ridgewood Real-Estate

How Christie’s school funding plan could affect your property taxes

Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed school funding overhaul could produce property tax relief from as much as $4,500 for the average homeowner in Glen Ridge to a little as $5 on average in Mount Ephraim, according to state data. Stephen Stirling and Adam Clark, Read more

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Governor Chris Christie Proposes Fairness Formula for School Funding ; equal funding for every child in New Jersey


Governor Chris Christie’s Speech On The Fairness Formula As Prepared For Delivery (Full text)

Hillsborough, New Jersey
June 21, 2016

We have two separate, but completely intertwined crises in New Jersey that must be dealt with.  They must be dealt with honestly and directly.  We cannot wait any longer to do it.  Property taxes and the failure of urban education.

Both of these crises are hurting all New Jerseyans, those affected both directly and indirectly.

Property taxes are the highest in America and the majority of those taxes are for local school taxes.

Urban education, despite 30 years of Supreme Court required intervention by the state, is still failing students and their parents at an alarming rate.  The theory from the Supreme Court was that money would solve the problem.

They were wrong. Very wrong. And the results prove it.  They have not solved our failures in urban education and, in the process, have led to New Jersey to be amongst the highest taxed states in America.  They have required the legislature and Governors to craft ridiculous school funding formulas that cheat thousands of families out of funding and thousands more from a valuable education.  Those days must end.  It is time to change the failed school funding formulas and replace it with one that will force the end of these two crises—the property tax scandal and the disgrace of failed urban education.

New Jersey spends the 3rd most in the nation per pupil on K-12 education.  For the upcoming fiscal year we spend 13.3 billion dollars on aid to K-12 education.  How do we spend it?  $9.1 billion goes back to school districts in direct aid.  $3.25 billion is to pay for the pensions and health benefits for retired teachers.   $936 million goes to pay the debt on schools, mostly in urban districts, to build new schools.  $13.3 billion—and that does not count the money paid in local property taxes.

Who gets the $9.1 billion? Well, that begins to tell the story.  By order of the Supreme Court, and coerced acquiescence by the elected branches of government, this coming year $5.1 billion goes to the 31 urban or SDA districts.  $4 billion goes to the remaining 546 districts.  That’s right.  58% of the aid from the state’s taxpayers goes to 5% of the state’s school districts. 42% of the aid goes to the remaining 95% of our districts.  This is absurd.  This is unfair.  This is not working.  And it hasn’t been working for 30 years.

Over the last 30 years, New Jersey taxpayers have sent $97 billion to the 31 SDA school districts.  The other 546 districts in the state received $9 billion less over the same 30 years.  $97 billion divided among only 31 SDA districts while the families in 546 other districts had to divide $9 billion less.  The inequity is appalling and it has only gotten worse as the years have passed.

In 1990, 23% of the state’s students, representing the SDA districts, got 41% of the state aid.  Today, while still representing only 23% of the state’s students, they receive 59% of the state aid.

Has that enormous differential in state aid brought greater achievement in the 31 districts?  No. Absolutely not.  Tragically so for the families in those districts and for the taxpayers all across New Jersey who have been footing the bill for the last 30 years.

Just take a sample of graduation rates.  The statewide graduation rate is 90%.  How have we done in the 31 districts where we have invested $97 billion over the last 30 years?  Asbury Park—66%.  Camden—63%.  New Brunswick—68%.  Newark—69%.  Trenton—68%.  27 of the 31 districts are below the state average, despite the exorbitant spending over the last 30 years.  Spending does not equal achievement—never has and never will.  There are  exceptions and those should be noted right here.  In Harrison, Long Branch, Millville and Pemberton they have exceeded the statewide graduation rate.  In Union City, the have seen extraordinary growth under very trying circumstances and the leadership in those districts deserve great credit.  But despite nearly $100 billion to those 31 districts in the last 30 years from taxpayers all over New Jersey, failure is still the rule, not the exception.  That is an unacceptable, immoral waste of the hard earned money of the people of New Jersey.

Worse than the wasted money is the lives that were not given the chance to reach their full potential.  We accept that subpar performance and pay a fortune for it.

Do not let anyone tell you that failure is inevitable for children in those 31 districts or that money is the answer.  The Academy Charter High School in Asbury Park had an 89% graduation rate compared to 66% in Asbury Park; Academy spends $17,000 per pupil while the traditional public schools spend $33,000 per pupil.  The LEAP Academy Charter School has a 98% graduation rate in Camden, while the district has a 63% rate; LEAP spends 16,000 per pupil while the school district spends $25,000 per pupil.  In Newark, the North Star Academy Charter has an 87% graduation compared to the citywide rate of 69%; North Star spends $13,000 per pupil compared to $22,000 per pupil district wide.

Over and over again we see the same issue:  money spent without results for the families we are meant to serve.  It is a false claim and always has been.  It is failing families and their children.  It is bankrupting our state. It is driving families from their homes and New Jersey.
The failure of the educational system in those 31 districts is the first tragedy.  The second tragedy is this system has caused us to have the highest property taxes in the nation.

New Jerseyans regularly say that the issue that is their number one concern is property taxes.  The highest in the nation and a burden on families in every corner of New Jersey.  What drives these taxes?  52% of property taxes statewide are spent on the school tax and in many districts it is as high as two-thirds.  But here is the unintended consequence of the unfair school funding formula:  in those 31 SDA districts, they spend a fraction of their property taxes on schools as compared to the rest of the state.  That’s right—the statewide average percentage of property taxes spent on schools is 52%; in the 31 SDA districts it is half that—only 26%.  Are they taxing less? Oh no, they are just growing the size of their municipal government.  The statewide average percentage spent on municipal government is 30%; in the 31 SDA districts it is nearly double—a whopping 54%!  When you look at some of the individual districts, it is appalling.  Asbury Park spends 60% less of their property tax dollars on schools than the state average, while their city spends 64% more than the state average on their municipal government.  Trenton spends 18% less of their property taxes than the state average on schools but spends an enormous 387% more than the state average on their municipal government.  In Paterson, 49% less on schools; 251% more on their city government.  East Orange, 39% less on schools; 379% more on city government.  It is outrageous.  It is unacceptable.  But it is perfectly predictable.

If you require the state to pay the overwhelming percentage of the school costs in these 31 districts, they are left with the choice:  do we tax less or just spend more on the growth of government?  The answer is resounding in most of the 31 SDA districts—the people of the rest of the state pay over 80% of the costs of our schools and we will spend our money to build oversized municipal governments—with no relief for local or state taxpayers.  The abuses abound.  Take Trenton for example.  The Presidents of both the PBA and AFSCME locals receive full municipal pay to work only for the unions.  No time working for the people; only for the unions.  No wonder it costs so much.

How do we fix these problems? First, we must fix the tax problem because that is the one that affects each and every New Jerseyan and threatens the future of the affordability of our state.  I propose we do this by changing the school funding formula.  I propose the Fairness Formula; equal funding for every child in New Jersey.

If we were to take the amount of aid we send directly to the school districts today (in excess of $9.1 billion) and send it equally to every K-12 student in New Jersey, each student would receive $6,599 from the State of New Jersey and its taxpayers.  Every child has potential.  Every child has goals.  Every child has dreams.  No child’s dreams are less worthy than any others.  No child deserves less funding from the state’s taxpayers.  That goal must be reached, especially after watching the last 30 years of failed governmental engineering which has failed families in the 31 SDA districts and taxpayers all across New Jersey.

What would the effect of this change be for school aid in New Jersey?  75% of all New Jersey would get more state aid under the Fairness Formula.  That is how fundamentally unfair the current formula is to students and taxpayers.  And it is unfair in every part of this state.

In Margate, they would receive 428% more in aid.  In Fairlawn, 815% more in aid. In that town, when combined with our 2% property tax cap, this new aid would result in average drop in their school property tax of over 2,200 per household.  In Teaneck, 389% more in aid and an average drop in property taxes of nearly $1,600.  In Wood-Ridge, an 801% increase in aid and a drop in property taxes of over $1,800.  How about South Jersey?  In Cherry Hill, an increase in aid of 411% and a drop in property taxes of over $1,700.  In Haddonfield, an increase in aid of 1705% and a drop in property taxes of nearly $3,600.

The pattern is repeated everywhere.  South Orange aid up 912%, taxes down over $3,700. In Readington Township, aid up 410%, taxes down nearly $2,000. In Robbinsville, aid up 666%, taxes down over $2,600.  In Freehold Township, aid up 153%, taxes down over $1,500. In Chatham Township, aid up 1271%, taxes down $3,800.  In Wayne, aid up 1181%, taxes down over $2,100.  All over the state, we slay the dragon of property taxes by implementing the Fairness Formula.  For the first time in anyone’s memory, property taxes plummeting not rising.  And all through valuing each child and their hopes, dreams and potential the same.

Of course, we will make sure that we have the aid for special needs students so that they may reach their potential too.  They are the exception though; the overwhelming majority of students deserve the Fairness Formula and we intend to pursue it for them.

We want to see major changes to the failed model of education in so many of these 31 SDA districts.  We now see definitively that money has not made the difference over these 30 years but reforms have made the difference.  We will continue to advocate for those reforms and we will insist that this new funding formula reward our successful charter schools with funding that comports with their success.

It is fundamentally wrong that students in the SDA districts receive 5 times more in state aid than students in non-SDA districts; it is unfair to those students and unfair to the residents of those towns who have been forced for more than three decades to foot the cost of that failure and unfairness.

A funding formula that puts a higher value on one child over another is morally wrong and it has been economically destructive.  We cannot let it continue.

I will travel across the state this summer to talk about this plan to, for the first time in my lifetime, lower property taxes for the people of New Jersey and bring fairness to the funding of our schools.

We can do better and we must—in educating all of our children and in bringing fairness to our taxpayers.  No one should be denied an education because of where they call home—an no one should have to sell their home because they can any longer afford the property taxes caused by a perverse school funding formula that devalues their children in the eyes of the state budget.  After all, it is their tax dollars that, in part, fund that aid itself.

I have 18 months left in office and I will not permit these fundamental truths to not be spoken and acted upon.  I will demand that the Legislature try defend the indefensible—that one child is worth more than another in the eyes of the state depending upon their zip code; or they can come along with me to fix this issue and put an end to the misery of our property taxpayers and make history in New Jersey.  I am ready for the fight and I know the taxpayers of New Jersey are looking for us to finally solve this problem.

Thank you for your attention and, now, lets get to work.