In today’s FY 2018 Budget Address, Governor Christie continued a seven-year practice of flat funding for schools – once again failing to follow the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). However, he went one step further urging the Legislature to adopt a new school funding formula in the next 100 days. We urge the Legislature to prioritize full funding of the formula and utilization of the funding formula as a starting point for any discussion.
Contrary to what was said, our State’s school finance law was developed over several years with input from educators, school finance experts, and community members. It fundamentally took into account the unique needs and characteristics of every student. Moreover, the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized its constitutionality as what is necessary to provide every student a thorough and efficient education. Sadly, over the last eight years, the State has not funded SFRA. We must begin with a commitment to fully fund the formula.
NJPSA has been participating in school funding discussions initiated by the Legislature over the last several months. NJPSA members have shared funding challenges and the impact of state aid losses on their students and schools, including special education funding, the failure to recognize enrollment growth, and the impact of overly restrictive budget caps in an era of flat funding.
While we recognize that these and other issues must be addressed as we move forward, we urge caution and care as changes are considered. Key to this discussion is coming to an agreement on what “fairness” means. As building leaders, funding fairness doesn’t mean dollar-for-dollar equality. Rather, it is a funding system that provides equal opportunity for every student.
With regard to pension funding, the Governor included a $647 million increase in pension funding while calling for a savings of $127 million in health benefit savings. We will be closely monitoring any proposed changes to health benefits. Of course, the unexpected announcement regarding the use of state lottery revenues must be reviewed carefully. While welcoming additional revenue, we must be cautious as to the impact a diversion of proceeds could have. We look forward to hearing additional details about this proposal, but urge that we have a full vetting of the proposal in the coming days.