Today I joined a group of Hawthorne parents and the NJ Working Families Alliance for a press conference at our Borough Hall. We came out because Hawthorne is one of the 40 “Dollar Districts” that Governor Christie claims are getting a bump in state aid this year when he is in fact giving them a single dollar increase.
If you’re like me, you’ve been inundated with campaign commercials from the governor touting this year’s budget as the “most education funding ever.” That’s about as ridiculous as claiming that one additional dollar is an increase. To commemorate Christie’s chutzpah, we brought a giant one dollar bill with the governor’s face on it. Christie can claim to be a friend to public education in his campaign commercials and in his town halls, but New Jersey parents have his number. Literally.
The truth is that this governor has a terrible record on public education, and every parent and property tax payer has suffered the consequences. Hawthorne, like every other municipality in New Jersey, was cut to the bone in 2010 and has been underfunded every year since. In fact, it’s getting only half of the aid it’s entitled to under the law. Each school district dealt with their cuts a different way. Some districts laid off teachers and staff, others imposed heavy fees, and almost all raised property taxes.
Parents at the event talked about the impact of the cuts on their child’s education, whether it was larger class sizes or a loss of special education support. Others spoke about property tax increases. Let’s face it: school aid is essentially direct property tax relief for middle-class families. And it’s no surprise that between Christie’s cuts to school aid and the Homestead Rebate program the property tax burden for middle-class families is up 20%.
The worst part of Christie’s continued underfunding of education is that it’s so unnecessary. The money is there. For the last three years Governor Christie has underfunded our schools while giving tax breaks to the richest 1% and the state’s most profitable corporations. If Prudential, Panasonic and Pearson Education can get their new office towers bankrolled by the state, why can’t Hawthorne get the $1.8 million it’s entitled to under the law?
In less than a month the legislature is going to pass a budget. They can choose to either accept Christie’s numbers or they can fight for a meaningful increase in aid for Hawthorne and every other district in the state. Here’s hoping they make the right choice.