Panel Will Recommend Realistic Way to Fairly Fund Public Schools & Control Property Taxes
(TRENTON) – Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assembly Education Chairwoman Marlene Caride on Monday announced they would introduce legislation to create the Joint Legislative Committee on Public School Funding Reform to recommend how to fairly fund New Jersey’s public school districts.
“We recognize New Jersey’s constitutional educational mandate and our moral responsibility to our children demand that we provide opportunities and eliminate obstacles for all students, regardless of their circumstances,” said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). “We also recognize New Jersey has not properly funded its schools. It’s a long-standing problem that should have been resolved years ago. The status quo is unacceptable, and this is a responsible way to fix it.”
“This commission would be modeled after the 2006 committee that devised the current school funding formula, which was the first school funding plan that was deemed constitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court in nearly 30 years,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The main problem has been the state’s failure to fund it. We believe this is still the model, but it’s been 10 years since this committee adopted the plan, so we can now take a look back at what was right and wrong with that formula.”
The bill – to be introduced Thursday – establishes the Joint Legislative Committee on Public School Funding Reform. The committee will consist of three members of the Senate appointed by the Senate President and three members of the General Assembly appointed by the Speaker. No more than two members appointed by the Senate President or the Speaker may be of the same political party. The Senate President and the Speaker will each designate one of their appointees to serve as a co-chairperson of the committee.
The bill directs the joint legislative committee to review the provisions of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008. The committee is to formulate proposals that address problems and issues that have arisen since the enactment of the law, including issues associated with changes in the demographics and fiscal conditions of school districts that have impacted the ability of local communities to support the education of their students. The committee will also formulate proposals to phase in full-funding of the School Funding Reform Act or revisions to it that the committee may recommend.
The committee will issue a report to be transmitted to the Senate and General Assembly that includes legislation to bring about the recommended public school funding reform.
Under the bill, the committee would be advised by a public school funding reform working group to provide information to the committee on issues associated with public school funding, and to serve in an advisory capacity and as a resource to the committee in its deliberations.
It will be comprised of 12 members, one each from the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the Garden State Coalition of Schools, the New Jersey Council of County Vocational Schools, the New Jersey Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, the Education Law Center, Save Our Schools NJ, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey and the Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
“No part of the school funding formula or the processes associated with the formula would be off limits,” Prieto said. “We expect the committee to look at all problems and issues that have arisen in the past 10 years, as well as demographic changes and changes in the fiscal conditions of school districts. We want a realistic proposal that can be fairly funded year after year.”
Caride said she also hoped the committee will give special attention to preschool opportunities, which she noted is a proven indicator of future educational success, and funding for special education.
“In light of the changing dynamics in school districts and the failure of the state to adequately implement the school funding law in many ways, this legislative review is not only necessary but essential,” Caride said.
Prieto and Caride noted the governor’s proposed a school funding formula is clearly unconstitutional and ignores the negative impact that poverty has on educational opportunity and success. They also noted the Senate has approved a commission plan that would not allow the Legislature to revise its recommendations.
“We have made no secret of the problem with this approach – the Senate’s commission would abrogate the legislative process and silence voice of the people,” Prieto said. “It would also cut off valuable input and debate, which as anyone who knows my background can tell you, is completely unacceptable to me.”
“We believe the best way to proceed is to learn from what worked,” Caride said. “The Legislature can craft a school funding plan that is fair, that can be embraced on a bi-partisan basis and that can pass constitutional muster. Equally important, it can help control property taxes.”