Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3), along with Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-11), announced the introduction of key legislation today establishing the State School Aid Funding Fairness Commission at a State House press conference to address the issue of funding inequality across school districts.
“The School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) was a major accomplishment that promised to provide full funding for all school children by ensuring that money would follow the child,” said Senate President Sweeney. ”State aid was to be distributed fairly and equitably based on a formula that took into account each town’s property tax base, its ability to pay, increases and decreases to enrollment, and the special needs of the children. The goals and objectives of the formula are on target, but the promise has not been kept.” Sweeney further noted that the State’s failure to fund the formula and keep funding at pace with school district needs, has made the formula less fair and equitable and shortchanged many districts.
As a result, he acknowledged that the state will need to increase its share of funding to schools by approximately $100 million per year over the next five years and reallocate existing state aid distribution to fully fund the formula and distribute state aid equitably across the formula.
The Funding Fairness Commission differs in a significant way from typical legislative commissions because the legislation specifically mandates that within one year, proposed legislation to implement Commission recommendations must be developed and submitted directly to both houses of our State Legislature for a vote with no opportunity for modifications. The Commission recommendations will be presented “as is” to the Legislature for a vote this time next year. The regular legislative process of committee hearings in each house is specifically eliminated in order to avoid the impact of politics on the funding decisions for our schools. The public will have the opportunity to weigh in through public hearings however.
Senate President Sweeney indicated that this process is modeled after the BRACC Commission (Base Relocation and Consolidation Commission) which dealt with the similarly controversial issue of determining which military bases to close or relocate.
The Commission will consist of four public members with two appointed by Governor Christie, one by Senate President Sweeney and one appointed by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. The public members must have knowledge and experience in public school finance or knowledge and experience in State Budgeting and finance. Employees of the Department of Education and the Department of Treasury will staff the Commission.
The Commission is specifically charged with reviewing our school funding law, the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, P.L. 2007, c. 260 (C.18A:7F-43 et al.) (SFRA), which has been fully funded only once since its enactment. In recent years, changes in district enrollments, community composition and tax status have impacted our schools, but the State has failed to address these changed circumstances in state aid allocations. As a result, the Commission will study and develop recommendations on the following funding issues according to its constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient system of free public schools:
- The issue of adjustment aid and State aid growth limitation provisions of SFRA which impact a district’s ability to meet its adequacy budget under law to provide a quality education in the district;
- The tax levy cap and its impact on school operations;
- The administrative spending cap which serves as a “double cap” on administrative costs; and
- The calculation of local fair share which defines a community’s obligation to fund its schools.
NJPSA looks forward to working with the Commission to share its views on school funding fairness and to ensure that all New Jersey schools receive the necessary funding to provide a quality education to every student.
- Senate Majority Office Statement
- Draft of Bill Text