Senate Passes Senate President’s Funding Commission Resolution

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The state Senate approved a concurrent resolution, September 15 calling for the formation of a State School Aid Funding Fairness Commission.  The resolution, SCR-119 (Sweeney / Ruiz), sponsored by Senators Stephen Sweeney and Teresa Ruiz, passed, 28-6.

The Bill

Specifically, the resolution, SCR-119 (Sweeney / Ruiz), creates a six-member commission, dubbed the ‘State School Aid Funding Fairness Commission,’ to provide a comprehensive recommendation on how to revise the state education aid formula to the Legislature.  The Legislature, akin to what happens under a Base Realignment and Closure Commission or ‘BRACC’ process, would then solely have an opportunity to approve or not approve the proposal’s recommended changes, not make changes.

Earlier this year, Senate President Sweeney floated a similar plan which called for a four-member commission made up of two appointees by the governor and one each by himself and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson). The Governor was not in agreement with the process, instead canvassing the state selling the idea of what he calls “fairness funding” – a flat $6,599 per student for each school district.

Opponents of the Governor’s  plan do not believe it has any chance to move forward. First, it treats all districts — large multiple-school districts with high schools and middle schools, as well as single-school elementary districts — the same. Second, some urban districts — such as Newark, Paterson, and Camden — will see budget cuts of about 70 percent. Third, it is unlikely to meet the approval of the state Supreme Court.

Now, the Senate President has come forward with a new process that cuts the Governor out entirely. The new commission created under the resolution approved Monday would be made up of six members — Sweeney and Prieto would each get an appointment, as would two ‘educational organizations.’  In addition, each Republican minority leader would also get one appointee.

As with the other proposed commission, this body would be asked to come up with recommended changes to the funding formula with the assumption that they would be working with an additional $100 million a year in funding over five years.  The body would be required to consider:

  • the impact of the adjustment aid and State aid growth limit provisions of the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” (SFRA), P.L.2007, c.260 (C.18A:7F-43 et al.), on the fairness of the school funding formula, to make recommendations for revising those provisions in order to provide full funding of the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” over a five-year period, and to bring fair and equitable funding to all school districts for enrollment growth over a multi-year period;
  • the tax levy growth limitation as established and calculated pursuant to section 3 of P.L.2007, c.62 (C.18A:7F-38) and its impact on the ability of school districts to adequately fund operating expenses;
  • the per pupil administrative costs limit as established pursuant to paragraphs (1) and (2) of subsection c. of section 5 of P.L.1996, c.138 (C.18A:7F-5) and the impact of the limit on school district staffing and operations;
  • the equalized valuation and income measures used to determine a school district’s local share of its adequacy budget as calculated pursuant to section 10 of P.L.2007, c.260 (C.18A:7F-52), and the impact of property tax abatements on that local share; and
  • the ability of a school district that is at or above its adequacy budget to lower its school tax levy in the event that additional State aid is provided under proposed legislation to implement the committee’s recommendations.

NJPSA, as well as NJASA, NJSBA, and Garden State Coalition of Schools have supported the proposal’s process but reserve judgment as to approval of the eventual plan that comes out of the work of the Commission.  In committee NJPSA urged the sponsors to guarantee additional funding be available to support any changes but expressed support of the inclusion of education stakeholders as well as the requirement that all commission members have school funding and state budgetary experience.  NJEA does not support the measure, voicing concerns about the illusory nature of the $100 million in additional revenue outlined within Sweeney’s proposal, as well as concerns around the BRACC process outlined under the bill.  

Legislative Action

Interestingly, a number of Republicans voted in favor of the bill during deliberations by the full Senate, even though Gov. Chris Christie has proposed an alternate flat funding proposal that would give each school district the same amount of money per pupil.  At the same time, not all Democrats are on board.  Democratic Sen. Nia Gill gave an impassioned floor speech in opposition, saying the bill would violate the Democratic process because whatever legislation the commission drafted would automatically be placed on third reading without a chance to be amended and bypassing committee hearings.

NJPSA will keep you posted as the proposal moves forward.