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Speaker Prieto Statement at Opening of Assembly School Funding Hearing

(TRENTON) – Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen) released the following statement Wednesday as the Assembly Education Committee began hearings on issues related to school funding in New Jersey:

“I want to start by thanking Chairwoman Caride and all the members of this committee for taking on this task. This is the first of a series of meetings that will allow for input from those engaged on a daily basis in our education system – experts, administrators, teachers, parents and advocates – who will help us to craft our next steps in education funding.

“I want to make very clear that I have not predetermined what I think our education funding formula should be going forward. I want us to hear from the stakeholders and then determine how we believe we should proceed. But I do believe the Legislature is the proper forum for this debate.

“Crafting a school funding formula is no simple task. There is no easy answer. The stakes are high – the education of our children. The Legislature must be fully engaged in this and use the legislative process to come to agreement.

“That being said, I believe the existing statutory school funding formula – the School Reform Act of 2008 – provides a solid foundation for our work. SFRA was the first school aid funding plan that was deemed constitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court in nearly 30 years of attempts. It was adopted with bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature.

“Many believed at the time that legislators could not set aside parochial interests and work for a school funding formula that would benefit all children across the state. But I think the adoption of the SFRA proved them wrong.

“The main problem with the SFRA has been the state’s failure to fund it. The Court gave the Legislature a few years to phase-in the funding to follow the plan. However, the plan was only fully funded in its first year. Since then, many of the provisions of the SFRA have been ignored and overridden; shutting down this constitutional pathway for the distribution of state school aid. This is not the fault of the formula and does not mean the formula is seriously flawed.

“I believe the SFRA is still the model – one that is clearly constitutional — that should be used for school aid distribution. That does not mean it doesn’t need tweaking or revision.

“No part of the current school funding formula or the processes associated with the formula should be off limits for this committee. I expect the committee to look at all problems and issues that have arisen since the adoption of the SFRA, as well as demographic changes and changes in the fiscal conditions of school districts that may warrant changes in the formula. I want a comprehensive review and comprehensive recommendations.

“One particular area that I hope the committee will give special attention is preschool opportunities. This committee knows there is perhaps no better indicator of future educational success than a successful preschool experience. SFRA intended preschool to be expanded across the state. However, the lack of funding has made this impossible.

“I also hope the committee will focus attention on funding for special education students. The SFRA used a census model to distribute special education funding. This approach may have led to underfunding of special education is some districts. A thorough review of the model and the actual classification levels is warranted.

“One final note before I leave you to your task – while I have not predetermined what changes I would like to see in the formula, I do know what I don’t want to see. The governor has proposed a revised school funding formula that is clearly unconstitutional and ignores the reality of the negative impact that poverty has on educational opportunity and success.”