Tag Archive: school aid

Our  Budget Brouhaha 

There are big stakes, and little time to resolve substantial budget differences between Governor Murphy and the leadership of the Legislature – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. These are the three key players who will determine the…
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Chris Christie Is a Little Sneak

From the fine folks at the Education Law Center, more proof that Chris Christie is a slippery little sneak:

Governor Christie’s proposed FY14 State Budget contains a special “assessment” or tax on 493 school districts that wipes out the small aid increases many of those districts were initially notified they would receive.

The Administration’s special tax is contained in language buried deep in the Governor’s budget. According to the Governor’s proposal, any district “that received their State support for approved [school construction] project costs” through the State Schools Development Authority [SDA] “will be assessed an amount that represents 15% of their proportionate share” of the principal and interest payments for State-issued school construction bonds. The State will not collect this special tax but will deduct or withhold the tax from the districts’ state school aid payments.    

Though the administration hasn’t publicized this tax, districts and school supporters have not been fooled. Many complaints about this “debt service assessment” were lodged during recent Senate and Assembly Budget Committee public hearings on the FY14 proposals. Legislators joined district representatives and advocates in questioning the legality of the tax and chastised the Governor for touting aid increases to districts that in fact would be eliminated by the tax.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s your straight-shootin’, no nonsense governor: screwing over school districts in his base so he can steal their money to help pay for an election-year income tax cut. He quietly picks the local districts’ pockets, then gives away what he stole and pretends it’s the result of his awesome leadership. To top it off, he then points the finger at the local districts and blames them for high taxes.

Neat trick, huh?

An ELC analysis [To access charts, click the sixth tab, entitled “FY14 Debt Service Assessments,” located above the title, “Governor’s FY14 State Aid.”] of the Governor’s proposal shows that the special tax will be withheld from 493 districts, reaping a total of $34 million for the State Treasury. The tax withholding ranges from $49 to $1 million per district.

In 294 districts, the amount of tax to be withheld will exceed the state aid increase they are slated to receive under the Governor’s FY14 school aid proposal. Of those districts, 157 are middle income, 102 are higher wealth, and 15 are vocational districts.

How many of those districts will go Christie’s way in November? All because they’ve bought the lie, sold by a credulous press, that this little sneak of a man is making “tough choices”?


Never mind what I’m doing! Mind your own business!

Kids Pay For Christie’s Incompetence

Reposted from Jersey Jazzman.

Like so many other denizens of the Garden State, it makes me nuts to watch Governor Chris Christie touted as a fearless leader and maker of tough decisions in the national press. Because the man is really, really bad at his job:

A report submitted this month by the state Department of Education to the Legislature is likely to set the stage for another school-funding debate next year. For many local districts, the outlook is not good.

The Educational Adequacy Report repeats many of the proposals suggested last year by Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. If accepted by the Legislature, they would reduce extra funding districts receive for low-income, bilingual and special-education students.

Advocates for those students already are gearing up to lobby the Legislature in January to reject the report. Lawmakers have 90 days to make a decision, or the proposals take effect.

The report also again recommends eliminating so-called adjustment aid over five years, which would reduce aid to many districts in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties. According to state data, adjustment aid for 2012-13 totaled $36 million in Vineland, almost $15 million in Pleasantville, nearly $14 million in Millville, $8 million in Atlantic City and $6.5 million in Lower Cape May Regional. [emphasis mine]

For the last three years, New Jersey has been on a rollercoaster ride when it comes to school financing. After immediately cutting taxes on the rich (yes, he did, stop trying to blame Corzine), Christie started his term by next promising to limit cuts in school aid to districts; he then proceeded to hack and slash at school budgets all across the state, including the suburban towns where his political base sends their kids to school.

Dysfunctional School Aid

School financing in New Jersey is like a dysfunctional family’s Christmas. Everyone wakes up early, runs downstairs, and anxiously divvies up what’s under the tree. Some favored children get a big pile of shiny new toys; others get socks. No one knows why, and everyone knows next year will be different; it all depends on Daddy’s mood the night before (and how deep he got into the eggnog bowl).

Here in Jersey, “Daddy” is none other then Chris Christie, and the “gifts” he hands out are school aid. Yesterday, superintendents, school boards, educators and parents perused spreadsheets released by the NJDOE, anxiously peering to see what presents Chris Chringle left under their schools’ tree.

Apparently, the governor thinks some districts have been naughty: 97 districts are losing aid. Among them is Newark, which is losing population to charter schools, despite the fact that ACTING Commissioner Cerf still hasn’t released the long promised report (nearly a year) on charter schools effectiveness.

I’ve not had a chance to analyze the entire allocation proposal yet, but one thing is clear: there is something fundamentally wrong with this entire system:

Figures flow from Jennifer Cavallaro’s memory as she recounts her futile crusade for an extra million bucks for her son’s school district in Gloucester County.

Nine: That’s how many Gov. Christie town hall meetings the 35-year-old mother of two attended. She always arrived five hours early to ensure a front-row seat, and the governor called on her to speak eight times.

Fifty: That’s how many supporters joined her at the Hammonton town hall last March, when Christie himself encouraged Cavallaro to push for legislation to supplement funding for the Swedesboro-Woolwich School District, which spends only half as much per pupil as the state average. “I will help you,” the governor told her.

And 4 p.m.: That’s the time she got a call one day last month from an apologetic governor’s aide, saying Christie would veto the bill she had shepherded through the Legislature at his suggestion.

“I was devastated,” Cavallaro said.

On Tuesday – day 612 of this quest for more money for a handful of Gloucester County districts struggling with skyrocketing enrollment – Cavallaro will head to state Assembly chambers to watch Christie deliver a budget address that, she hopes, will offer a solution.

She won’t be the only one hanging on the Republican governor’s words. Interest groups of all sorts – along with taxpayers, mayors, and school superintendents in poor and wealthy towns alike – will wait to hear how the fiscally conservative governor chooses to allocate about $30 billion in state funding.

We now have a school funding system in the state where parents need to organize to lobby the governor – and hope he decides to listen – to get adequate funds for their children’s schools. The New Jersey public education system – in many ways, the crown jewel of this state – is now at the mercy of one man, who coincidentally has made war with the teachers union. Something is very wrong here.

As of today, 465 of the over 600 districts in New Jersey have voted to move school elections to November. Why? Because as long as they stay under the 2% tax levy cap, they can count on being able to pass their budgets without worrying about whether the governor decides to take out his anger at teachers by calling for the defeat of local district budgets – just like he did in 2010.

These districts are willing to live under the cap if they can get some guarantee of stability in their funding. As this BOE President in Lacey says:

“It takes the issue of the school budget off of elections, which is the only budget that voters are allowed to vote on in the realm of federal, state, county, municipal and school budgets,” Martenak said.

A budget referendum will only be necessary if the board’s budget exceeds the 2 percent tax levy cap. The move allows for more planning without the concern of a budget outcome, Martenak said.

This is directly contradictory to the current state aid process, which only serves to further politicize school funding. When the governor – particularly a partisan showboat like Christie – holds the purse strings, you can be sure he’ll manipulate the system to his advantage. Why else would he claim to increase education spending by $850 million when what he was really doing was restoring his previous cuts – and then, only after a court order he fought?

Of course, the administration will deny politics has anything to do with all of this:

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said the aid changes reflected a move back toward the state’s 2008 funding formula: Wealthier districts lost all aid, or huge portions of it, in cuts announced two years ago, so they stood to regain a higher percentage.

“It’s not the case that anybody sat around and said, ‘Let’s send more to wealthy Republican districts and less to poor districts or Democratic districts,’Ÿ” he said.

Yeah, right. Because Chris Christie is such an apolitical guy:

The biggest loser was Camden, the state’s poorest city, where aid decreased $5.5 million, to $276 million – a decrease of $394 per student. An Education Department spokesman said Camden lost that aid mostly because it got much more than the funding law calculated was necessary to provide an adequate education for students with its characteristics.

Some districts lost aid due to enrollment declines.

Representatives of suburban schools expressed delight, however.

“It really does look like the governor has recognized the suburbs have been left out of the loop for quite a while in state aid, and they need it,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re glad it’s showing up now.”

Make no mistake: this has everything to do with politics. It has everything to do with playing to your base. Why else would Regis Academy – the only charter school approved last year that was not in an Abbott district – get the nod from the state, despite overwhelming community disapproval? Could it be that Cherry Hill is a “Democratic stronghold“?

This is not a problem specific to a particular governor; it is a systemic problem. New Jersey’s schools need a stable and adequate source of funding, free of the vagaries of politics. Our current system is simply inadequate to the task.

Christie’s Tax Cut: Selling Our Souls for $58

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer.

I’ve already commented on Governor Christie’s 10% tax cut proposal, which sounds like a wonderful idea, except that it’s not a wonderful idea. As Mark Magyar wrote in Sunday’s Newark Star-Ledger, the real problem in New Jersey is high property taxes, not the income tax rate. This comes on the heels of another report which said that New Jersey’s property tax rate rose at its lowest rate in 2011, an average of 2.4%.

To get an accurate picture of just how the governor’s proposal would affect the average taxpayer and homeowner, let’s take a look at both numbers, the income tax cut and the average increase in property taxes, and see what the real effect would be.

Jobs and Taxes #2: Christie vetoes suburban school aid, then complains about it

This is the second post in our new “jobs and taxes” series, investigating two issues of concern to pretty much everyone in New Jersey and how things have changed in the Christie Administration. The first one was on jobs. This one is on taxes.

For those of us who live in working-class and middle-class suburbs, why are our property taxes going up?

Well, a lot of it is because Chris Christie decided it was more important to cut taxes for millionaires than to fund aid to suburban school districts. He cut $492 million in aid to suburban school districts that had been included in the Democrats’ budget.

Republican Filibuster of School Aid to New Jersey Defeated

The long Republican filibuster to stop aid to states was defeated today:

President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in the Senate earned a long-sought win Wednesday as a $26 billion measure to help states and local school boards with their severe budget problems cleared a GOP filibuster.

The bill advanced by a 61-38 tally that ensures the measure will pass the Senate on Wednesday or Thursday. It would then return to the House for a final vote that would deliver it to Obama for his signature.

Key votes from Snowe and Collins supported our Senators Menendez and Lautenberg. I believe ultra-right-winger Garrett was the only New Jersey Representative to oppose the bill, though I may be mistaken, since the bill has changed forms many times. (The title says it’s about FAA regulations!)

A major development for New Jersey, and no thanks to most national Republicans. Now that the filibuster is defeated, the bill is expected to pass later in the week due to the obscure and little-used Constitutional rule that majorities of the House and Senate can pass a law.  

Chris Christie and the Budget State of Emergency Speech

Updated by Jason: Here is the full text of his speech.

Update by Hopeful: Reactions from legislators are posted in comments. Republicans are supportive, Democrats promise a “long, hard look.”

Chris Christie will be addressing the legislature today and is expected to describe how he will close this year’s budget gap. The speech is scheduled for 10:30AM and we’ll live blog it.

NJ.com has a preview:

Gov. Chris Christie will declare a state of emergency in a major budget speech today, laying the groundwork to make a range of cuts that will include $475 million in withheld state aid to schools, according to people familiar with his plans…

Christie will introduce $475 million in cuts to school funding to more than 500 school districts, a move he will not need legislative approval for, according to a Democrat who was briefed by Christie administration officials Wednesday night.

More furloughs, however, are not expected.

You’ll remember that Corzine had proposed cuts to state aid in December, but thought he needed legislative approval and didn’t get it by the time he left office.

I hear the speech will be televised on NJN, and it is on NJN radio and their radio live stream. Here is a link to the NJN Video live stream.