Senate Hearing on School Funding Reform Held In Bergen County
Cliffside Park – The bipartisan Senate Select Committee on School Funding Fairness, co-chaired by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Joseph Pennacchio, held its fourth hearing today, gaining input on the fairness and equity of the formula that distributes funding to all of New Jersey’s school districts. The session, held in Cliffside Park, drew education officials from nearly every school district in Bergen County, including superintendents, school board members, teachers, principals, state and local officials, as well as statewide education advocacy groups.
“The input we are gaining from these public hearings confirms our belief that school funding reforms are needed to correct a system that is unfair and inequitable,” said Senator Sweeney. “It is more than obvious that the fatal flaws of adjustment aid and enrollment caps are causing a lopsided distribution of aid to school districts throughout the state, including those in Bergen County. By correcting those problems and increasing total state aid we can provide full funding for every district in New Jersey.”
The hearings are examining the effectiveness of the school aid formula, the distribution of local funding, and the impact on education and property taxes, giving the panel input to make recommended reforms.
School districts in Bergen County would gain $213 million in additional aid under full funding, with Hackensack gaining $21 million, Lodi $20 million and Cliffside Park $5 million.
“This is a fiscal issue as well as an education priority,” said Senator Sarlo, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. “School funding has a real impact on local taxpayers. We make significant investments in our schools and we want to make sure the funds are used effectively and responsibly.”
The original formula 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 overcompensated with money for students they don’t have. These add-ons – “growth caps” and “adjustment aid” – 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.
“There is no issue more important than investing in the education of our children, but we have to make sure that state funding is allocated in a fair and responsible way. We are committed to working to address the inadequacies in the school funding formula with a goal of bringing all districts to 100% funding,” said Senator Ruiz. “This hearing was part of the process of examining the impact of the current funding structure on districts as we work to remedy the system.”
According to the Garden State Coalition of Schools, taxpayers in 200 communities are paying nearly $1 billion more than their local fair share to make up the inadequacy of school funding. At the same time, $538 million in “adjustment aid” is going to districts that already receive more than 100 percent of formula aid, a disparity that will only grow worse if it isn’t corrected, Senator Sweeney said.
Statewide, this year’s budget for formula aid to school districts is currently $8 billion. This includes about $530 million in adjustment aid to school districts that are overfunded based on their student population and property tax base. If the state did not underfund the SFRA, it should be providing about $9.5 billion in aid to school districts. As a result, hundreds of school districts are levying higher school property taxes on their residents than they should be to make up for shortfalls created by the State.
The 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.
Senator Sweeney has also advocated for an increase in total school aid of $100 million annually over five years to reach full funding.
“As we continue to hear from parents and education officials, we are receiving a lot of feedback from districts that are asking for the tools they need to do their jobs, which is educating the children of our state,” said Senator Sandra Cunningham, chair of the Higher Education Committee. “We thank them for their willingness to be part of the effort. This is a process and hearing from districts and officials across the state is an important part of the committee’s work.”
The committee also includes Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, who also serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Sandra Cunningham, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Senator Paul Sarlo, chair of the Budget Committee, Senator Steven Oroho, Senator Michael Doherty and Senator Samuel Thompson.