EDITORIAL June-17-2017

If Christie wants fairness, he’ll back this school funding fix | Editorial

The following editorial originally appearedhere in the Star-Ledger.

The deal just struck by state Democratic leaders on school funding, which corrects some of the most outrageous inequities in our system, is a huge step in the right direction.

It addresses a serious problem: The formula the Legislature uses to fund schools is outdated, and still awards districts state aid based on what they looked like years ago, before their real estate booms or enrollment bursts.

As a result, Jersey City or Hoboken still get aid as if their real estate markets were in the dumps, while districts that have absorbed waves of new students are starved of money.

Now, finally, we have a reasonable compromise that helps fix that – by reallocating $46 million to underfunded districts and adding $100 million in new state aid, a down payment on filling a nearly $2.2 billion gap in school funding.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, who negotiated this with the top man in the Assembly, Speaker Vincent Prieto, says the increases in following years will be much greater. He is banking on a victory by Democrat Phil Murphy this fall, and says that added bump will be financed with a millionaire’s tax.

That’s in keeping with Murphy’s tax plan. For this first year of boosted school aid, they will only need Gov. Chris Christie’s approval of the re-allocation, with the added $100 million financed through revenue growth.

This is one of the last things he’ll do in office; let’s hope he doesn’t screw it up. Unlike Christie’s horrendous, unconstitutional plan last year that savaged the school budgets of poor districts like Newark and Camden to reduce property taxes in wealthier towns – a proposal that’s officially dead – this deal retains New Jersey’s basic framework for funding public schools.

That’s the formula approved by the state Supreme Court in 2008 – not our current perverted version, which includes legislative fiddles that create winners and losers based on political might.

The result is our dysfunctional system in which a district like Kingsway has seen enrollment explode by 1200 students, while Washington Township has lost an equal number — yet state aid is allotted as if those changes didn’t happen.

The teacher’s union calls Sweeney and Prieto’s deal a “sick scheme,” because districts like Washington Township or Jersey City will now see cuts. But this plan takes so-called “adjustment aid” only from districts that are getting more than they deserve now.

Jersey City residents pay only about 30 percent of the school property taxes that the state formula says they can afford; the state has simply always provided the difference. How is that fair, when other districts pay a much larger share? The average district pays 104.5 percent.

And is it fair to Paterson, which faces major layoffs? This is one of many districts that’s seen a big influx of Latino students who don’t speak English. They are underfunded, and face the added cost of teaching these kids English. When they have to fire teachers, why aren’t we hearing about a “sick scheme” from the union?

Chesterfield, the most underfunded district, was about to do a half-million-dollar budget cut. Now, thanks to this deal, it won’t have to. Christie says he has “concerns about fairness.” Well, if he’s truly serious about addressing them, he’ll back this proposal too.

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