Our current school funding formula passed constitutional muster in a review by the state Supreme Court in 2008. The formula was designed to address the level of resources required for students with varying needs, such as low income students and English language learners. Governor Christie, however, has not followed the formula, and he has shortchanged districts through a combination of state aid cuts and flat funding over six years. According to the Education Law Center while the state in the 2016 school year provided $9.1 billion in direct support, the level of underfunding was $1 billion.
Gubernatorial candidates agree our school funding system needs reform but they disagree on how and on the sources of revenue to achieve the goal. Hundreds of towns have not gotten their full share of funding under the formula since 2010 while other towns are overfunded.
In his February budget address, Gov. Christie demanded that legislators fix the school funding formula, but a solution pits district against district, and the needs of property owners against the needs of public school students. Christie proposed his “Fairness Formula” which allocated a fixed, single sum to all students. The plan went nowhere. In the meantime Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Prieto have offered dueling proposals. Sweeney has even threatened to not pass a budget bill until the matter is resolved, which could lead to a government shutdown. The Senate and the Assembly have each held four hearings on the issues. Transcripts are available here.
Also in the mix is pre-k school funding. State Senator Teresa Ruiz argues that school funding reform must include pre-K expansion and says, committing to provide quality preschool for all children is an easy decision. Politicians have differing views on the matter, including whether to expand or fully fund. In addition some candidates are are weighing in on charter schools as they draw funds away from public schools.
The quagmire: Finding the monies to fully fund all schools and to establish a fairer allocation to each district. Although some modifications may be agreed upon by the June 30 deadline, a more complete and adequate resolution of the issues is unlikely to be reached while Christie is in office. Furthermore, it is unlikely for there to be any addition to school funding this year as the Office of Legislative Services calculates that the governor’s 2017-18 budget Year-End Balance is already short $436.2 million.
So lets look at what the gubernatorial candidates say through their websites, sometimes very little, and through other sources.
Former Ambassador Phil Murphy: Restoring and funding the only school funding formula that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Also he said, Working to expand free pre-K to all families in NJ, it will necessary to raise taxes.
Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli: Reduce excess aid in the most extremely overfunded school districts; Redefine ‘Local Fair Share’ so no community funds are less than 25% of their school operating budget or construction costs through the local property tax levy. Recognizing that simply spending more money per student does not guarantee better educational outcomes. Change the state aid formula by reweighting cost-per-student spending targets. Prevent communities like Jersey City and others from abating school taxes on new development with 75% of negotiated payments-in-lieu-of-taxes. Dedicated to the local school district. to ensure that state-funded Pre-K is not unfairly limited to a small handful of districts like Hoboken and Newark. My plan reforms the system to redirect state pre-K funds to make means-tested pre-K available to all families at no additional cost to taxpayers.
Former Undersecretary of the Treasury in Clinton’s administration Jim Johnson: Re-ensure that every child, regardless of race, income status, or zip code has access to high-quality education, universal pre-K, universal middle school after-school programs, and increased funding for community school and wraparound services. Put a moratorium on charter schools; public schools lose money when student’s leave to attend public charter schools because the state money is shifted to the charter. He also said he would go after federal dollars to support the programs.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski: Committed to fully funding K-12 education in his very first budget as governor by restoring the estate tax, freezing corporate welfare, signing a new millionaire’s tax, and overturning Christie’s $300 million State House renovation. An immediate moratorium on charter schools.