Sweeney Conducts Roundtable on Fair School Funding Plan In Woolwich
Woolwich – Senate President Steve Sweeney joined with local officials, educators and others today in a roundtable discussion on the School Funding Reform Act that will provide full funding to all school districts in New Jersey, a plan that will deliver a boost for the Swedesboro-Woolwich and Kingsway school systems and the many other communities that are underfunded by the current school aid formula.
Swedesboro-Woolwich is funded at only 54 percent of the formula. It would receive an additional $6.1 million in aid under Senator Sweeney’s plan by bringing the district to 100 percent of the formula. Kingsway Regional, which covers grades nine through 12, is funded at 43 percent of the formula. It would have state aid increased by $11.6 million. The schools systems are among the 80 percent of districts in New Jersey receiving less than they should, according to the state aid formula.
“Every school district in New Jersey should be fully funded so that every student has a fair and equal opportunity for a quality education,” said Senator Sweeney. “The original funding formula for state aid that was put in place in 2008 would have met that standard if it wasn’t altered to include provisions that have resulted in some districts being underfunded while others receive more than their fair share. This problem can be corrected at the same time we work to provide 100 percent of the funding formula to reach full funding.”
The Senate unanimously voted to create a special bipartisan committee to examine the state’s school funding system and to make recommended reforms. The eight-member Select Committee on School Funding Fairness will hold public hearings throughout the state. The first hearing will be held at the Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich at 11:00 a.m. on January 27th. Additional hearings will be held throughout the state.
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.
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.
“Senate President Sweeney’s efforts are addressing an inequity in school funding that leaves too many districts like ours short of the state aid we deserve,” said Swedesboro-Woolwich Superintendent Dr. Kristin O’Neil. “All we are asking for is our fair share so that our students get the support for a quality education and local taxpayers are not forced to pay more than they should.”
Senator Sweeney is also advocating for an increase is state support of $100 million a year for five years.
In addition to the $500 million in increased aid, the $680 million in adjustment aid that is now overfunding some districts would be reallocated to bring all districts to full funding. 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 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.
Also participating in today’s forum were: Swedesboro-Woolwich Superintendent Dr. Kristin O’Neil; Kingsway Superintendent Jim Lavender; Swedesboro Mayor Thomas Fromm; Woolwich Mayor Alan Schwager; Woolwich Deputy Mayor Frank Rizzi; Swedesboro Councilwoman Alice O’Blennis; Swedesboro-Woolwich BOE President Craig Frederick; Swedesboro-Woolwich BOE Vice President Jacklyn Dopke; Swedesboro-Woolwich BOE Member Rosella Musumeci; Swedesboro-Woolwich BOE Member Natalie Mathias; Swedesboro-Woolwich BOE Member Michelle VanDiehl; Swedesboro-Woolwich Business Administrator Chris DeStratis; Kingsway Business Administrator Jason Schimpf; Woolwich Committeeman John Carlton; Woolwich Clerk Jane DiBella; Swedesboro Clerk Tanya Goodwin.