Representatives of New Jersey’s major education organizations met with Senate President Stephen Sweeney July 11 to discuss changes to the State’s current funding proposal – the School Funding Reform Act of 2008. The meeting included a discussion of the two current competing school funding proposals put forth the Senate President and Governor respectively.
The event, convened by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, brought together representatives from some of the state’s foremost groups representing parents, administrators, school boards and educational advocates. Among those at the table for the Monday discussion, in addition to NJPSA’s own Executive Director Pat Wright, were representatives from the Education Law Center, NJ School Boards Association, NJ Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, New Jersey Parent Teacher Association, Garden State Coalition of Schools and JerseyCAN
The roundtable – Sweeney’s sixth – was intended to promote a school funding reform plan that Democrats in the Legislature are pushing. Their proposal, “Formula4Success,” would involve forming a commission to recommend tweaks to the existing funding structure while allocating extra money each year for five years until school districts, which have long been underfunded, reach the level of funding they should be receiving, based on the formula.
Under a counter-proposal , the Governor wants to give all districts equal aid of $6,599 per pupil, plus extra for special education students. The Republican governor has framed his proposal as a way to stop pouring extra money into “failing” districts that are underperforming, while also providing property tax relief to many communities that would see an increase in school aid under his plan (Senate Dems & Governor Launch Competing School Funding Websites, July 7, 2016).
Response to Christie’s proposal has been somewhat positive in venues where the Governor, and even the Senate President, have sought public input. Supporters have called for ‘additional accountability’ in urban districts and the need for property tax relief as a basis for considering the Governor’s proposal. But, critics of the governor’s proposal say his plan would devastate urban school districts, which currently receive extra funding to reflect the greater number of low-income students and English learners they serve, in addition to special-education pupils.
July 11 Roundtable
Yesterday’s Roundtable included input from only education stakeholders – all of which have a deep understanding of the impact the proposal would have statewide.
“The plan that the governor put forward is the antithesis of fairness,” said Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. “We feel that it is using the enticement of reduced property taxes but on the backs of a thorough and efficient education for every student.”
The head of the Education Law Center, said Monday that all those who care about public education must speak out against Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed “Fairness Formula.”
“The governor’s proposal needs to be resisted by everybody,” said David Sciarra, the law center’s executive director. “This would literally take New Jersey back to ‘separate and unequal’ again, turn the clock back literally four decades.”
The current formula, adopted in 2008, “is a national model of what a good, strong, weighted-student, funded formula looks like, driven by student needs,” said Sciarra.
Sweeney noted that the graduation rate in Paterson, the state’s third largest district and one that is under state control, has jumped from 42 percent to 78 percent over the years.
“We’re making headway. You don’t blow everything up,” he said.
The Need for Change
However, attendees also called for a review of the current formula in light of changing circumstances.
Judy Savage, executive director of NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, said while some vocational schools have benefited from the current funding formula and others have not, “at its core, the [School Funding Reform Act] is a fair formula. It recognizes the higher cost of vocational programs. It recognizes the higher cost of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds,” she said.
A Clarion Call
Sweeney told those assembled that they, and other school leaders, must educate the public about Christie’s proposal, saying it would be wrong to take money away from children who face the most challenges.
Interestingly the State’s largest teachers union was missing from the discussion – in light of concerns the union raised about the composition of the commission developed under Sweeney’s legislative framework. Advocates, including NJPSA, have also raised issues but took a different tack in advocating for change. The conversation is expected to continue throughout the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned as the issue develops.