PARSIPPANY — Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Joe Pennacchio joined with local officials, educators, advocates and parents in a community forum in Parsippany to discuss the importance of acting to ensure the state’s school funding formula distributes state aid fairly and equitably.
“School districts in Morris County are among the many districts that are severely underfunded by a system that allocates aid in a disproportionate way,” said Senator Sweeney. “We need to act with the urgency this issue requires and reform the funding practices in New Jersey so that all the school districts are fully funded with their fair share of state aid. The longer the delay, longer the problems persist.”
With 13 school districts in Morris County funded under 50 percent of the formula, the county has some of the lowest funded districts by percentage in the state. With the growth cap and adjustment aid removed and SFRA and Extraordinary Special Education Aid fully funded, Morris County schools stand to gain $57 million.
Senator Sweeney and Senator Pennacchio joined with other participants in the forum in stressing the importance of acting quickly to get a reform plan in place.
“The problems caused by the lopsided funding system become worse year after year,” said Senator Pennacchio. “It puts a severe strain on the schools that are treated unfairly, undermining our ability to support our schools fully and putting more pressure on local taxpayers. I join the chorus of educators and advocates in urging state leaders to follow through on the commitment to making needed reforms.”
Senator Pennacchio has advocated for a number of reforms to the state school funding formula, including the full state funding of extraordinary special education costs that can impose a heavy burden on school budgets and property taxpayers.
Senator Sweeney, other legislators, educators, advocacy groups and local officials have identified two add-ons to the state’s school funding formula as “fatal flaws” that cause a lopsided distribution of aid.
“We need to follow through on all the work that has been done in identifying the problems with the current formula and in creating a plan to address them,” said Senator Sweeney. “We have solutions we just need to act in a timely way to put them in place.”
The school funding law of 2008 was altered to include provisions that have prevented districts with increased student enrollment from receiving fair compensation at the same time other school systems are over compensated with so-called “hold harmless” aid that gives them money for students they don’t have.
The two add-ons were intended to be temporary but continue to be funded eight years later, exacerbating a disparity that leaves some districts with as little as 40 percent funding while others get 140 percent or more of the formula aid.
Senator Sweeney is also advocating for an increase in state support of $100 million a year for five years.
In addition to the $500 million in increased aid, the $600 million in adjustment aid that is now overfunding some districts would be reallocated. This redistribution of hold harmless adjustment aid to underfunded school districts will help to eliminate the enrollment growth cap that discriminates against growing school districts in both cities and suburbs.
The Senate created a special bipartisan committee to examine the state’s school funding system and to make recommended reforms. The study committee will also assess the impact of tax growth on the ability of school districts to fund their schools, evaluate special education services, look at per-pupil administrative costs, the fairness of the current equalized valuation and income measure, and the impact of property tax abatements. It will also look for recommendations to lower property taxes.