Governor Calls for Major Change In How State Funds Schools

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Governor Chris Christie proposed major changes to how New Jersey funds local schools, calling for flat per pupil aid to all districts across the state.  Christie’s proposed his “Fairness Formula,” in a speech at Hillsborough High School.  The plan would call for districts to receive the same amount for every student ($6,599 per student), regardless of situation.  Under the plan, special education aid would not change.

Christie outlined his plan with a 45 minute presentation June 21.  The initial presentation will be followed by a series of summer ‘town halls’ focused on his proposal.  The plan calls for a modification of State Constitution.   Christie is asking state lawmakers to put his plan before voters on the fall 2017 ballot.  Residents would have to decide whether to amend the state Constitution to implement Christie’s funding system.

The Proposal

Under the proposal, the State would throw out the existing School Funding Reform Ac (SFRA)t, which has a weighted funding system that delivers higher levels of aid to the poorest districts. The proposal would significantly reduce aid to urban districts while lowering property taxes in many suburban towns.

Under the plan, Christie indicated 75 percent of school districts would see an increase in state aid – allowing them to ease the property tax burden on local residents, he said. But, the proposal would also deal a major blow to districts with the highest percentage of students from low-income families, primarily urban districts that Christie criticized for high spending and low graduation rates.  Under the proposal 37 districts who would see their aid cut by more than 50 percent.

During yesterday’s presentation, the Governor indicated that he did not think the plan will inordinately hurt urban students. Many of those students currently attend districts that are “on autopilot” and need to downsize and make adjustments, he said.

“Urban education, despite 30 years of Supreme Court required intervention by the state, is still failing students and their parents at an alarming rate. The theory from the Supreme Court was that money alone would solve the problem,” Christie said. “They were wrong. Very wrong. And the results prove it.”

“They get a big check from the state every year, they are not making any changes in the way they educate children and they are not showing any increase in success,” Christie said.

Those districts should learn from charter schools in their community with higher academic performance, Christie said.

How Funding Currently Works

New Jersey schools are funded through a combination of state, federal and local dollars.  The state currently gives about $9.1 billion in direct support to its school districts using a weighted formula that provides more per-pupil funding for special education students, students from low-income families and those who are learning English as their second language. Of that $9.1 billion, about $5.1 billion goes to 31 districts former Abbott districts, while the other $4 billion goes to the remaining 546 districts, Christie said.


The proposal was swiftly criticized by Democratic lawmakers who called the proposal ‘dead on arrival.’

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), called the plan “unconstitutional and harmful to our most vulnerable children.”

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the chair of the Senate Education Committee, issued a joint statement calling the proposal a direct attack on the core principals of equality.

“This plan is unfair, it is unjust and it is blatantly unconstitutional,” the lawmakers said. “It is a maneuver that discriminates against the most vulnerable students and would systematically deny children an equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

Not surprisingly, Republicans lined up in support — with both state Assemblyman Jon Bramnick and state Sen. Thomas Kean Jr., their chamber’s respective minority leaders, attending the June 21 announcement.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) praised the proposal and said he will sponsor it in the state Legislature.

“Nothing is more fair than treating students equally no matter where they live,” Bramnick said.

History of the Proposal

The prime author of the idea is State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren), who has long contended the urban districts are getting too much aid.

“After years of being the lone voice calling for a new school-funding formula that treats every student and every taxpayer fairly, I’m glad that Gov. Christie has joined my call for reform,” Doherty said.

Other Funding Discussions

The proposal comes a week after Senate President Stephen Sweeney proposed a taskforce be established to examine several parameters of the school funding formula, which was adopted in 2009 (School Funding Fairness Task Force Announced, June 9, 2016).

Governor’s Press Coverage

Ed Stakeholder Statements

Lawmaker’s Response