On January 12, 2018, representatives from 10 school districts filed a petition to the Commissioner of
Education alleging discrimination by the State of New Jersey in its distribution of state aid to school
At a press conference that day to announce the legal filing, Ken Greene, superintendent of the
Newton Public Schools (Sussex County) stated that the petitioners “represent a group of 96 school districts, educating more than 250,000 students throughout the State that are both overtaxed and severely under-aided.” He defined that group as districts who are receiving less than 70% of their state aid and who are taxing above 100% of their local fair share in taxes to their communities. He asserted that these communities are being underfunded in a total amount of $739 million by the State which results in increased property taxes, totaling more than $475 million, in these impacted communities.
The legal action seeks to address the State’s continued underfunding of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) and the current distribution of aid. In FY 2018, this shortfall is estimated to be at the $1.3 billion mark. According to Greene, “this under-aiding affects nearly two out of every three school districts in every region of the state among all income groups and all enrollment sizes.”
This underfunding is exacerbated by the continued distribution of Adjustment Aid, a temporary, transitional form of aid created in 2008 to assist districts that would lose significant state aid as the SFRA formula was implemented. As intended, Adjustment Aid was to be phased out as the SFRA formula aid was funded and implemented, but in practice, the SFRA has not been properly funded since 2009, its first year of implementation. As a result, the distribution of Adjustment Aid has continued and become a part of the base aid of districts that receive it. According to the petitioning school districts, this has resulted in the over-aiding of 38% of New Jersey school districts at the expense of others, an inequity
they ask the newly-named Commissioner of Education, Lamont Repollet to address.
In addition to the Newton Public Schools, the petitioning school districts include the Middlesex School District (Middlesex County), Little Ferry Public Schools (Bergen), Kingsway Regional School District (Gloucester), Chesterfield Township School District (Burlington), North Brunswick Township Schools(Middlesex), Jamesburg Public Schools (Middlesex), Emerson Public Schools (Bergen), Wallington Public Schools (Bergen) and Swedesboro-Woolwich School District(Bergen).
The legal action comes as New Jersey’s newly-elected Governor Phil Murphy takes office and begins preparations for his first Budget Address to the State Legislature in February.