This week’s School Board Notes provides an update on the two major school finance proposals, along with NJSBA’s position on school funding.

Fairness Formula Contrary to what some may believe, there is no indication that school districts receiving additional money under the Christie Administration’s Fairness Formula could apply the funds to educational programming. Instead, the Fairness Formula appears to be a tax-reduction plan, with the governor emphasizing its impact on local property tax bills.

Gov. Chris Christie proposed the plan, which would reallocate existing state education aid, in June. Under the plan, each school district, regardless of property wealth or personal income, would receive the same amount of aid per pupil—$6,599, which is based on the current state school funding level of $9.1 billion.

One-quarter (25 percent) of districts would experience funding reductions, with some losing more than half of their aid. The vast majority of these districts are not former Abbott districts, but those that receive higher levels of state aid because of their inability to raise the funds needed to provide an adequate education due to limited property wealth and lower income levels.

When he first announced the proposal, the governor said that additional funding would continue for special education students. However, no further information has been released concerning special education. The plan would not provide funding for at-risk students or English language learners.

The Fairness Formula would require a constitutional amendment. To date, no legislation has been introduced to authorize placement of a constitutional amendment before the voters.

Funding Fairness Commission On Sept. 15, the state Senate gave bi-partisan approval to the creation of State School Aid Funding Fairness Commission, which would identify ways to ensure fair and adequate state funding for all school districts. The proposal, SCR-119, is sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Senate Education Committee Chair M. Teresa Ruiz.

SCR-119, unlike an earlier version of the proposal, is a concurrent resolution, rather than a bill, and therefore would not require the governor’s signature.

Under the plan, a six-member commission would make recommendations on various issues, including the impact of “Adjustment Aid” which was originally intended to hold school districts harmless during the transition to the current school funding system in 2008. The commission would also study state aid growth limits, the 2 percent tax levy cap, the per-pupil administrative spending growth limit, the methodology for allocating special education aid, and the factors used to determine a district’s local fair contribution toward education spending. (See the Sept. 20 issue of School Board Notes online  for more information on SCR-119.)

An identical resolution, ACR-208, has been introduced in the Assembly.

NJSBA Beliefs on School Funding This summer, NJSBA sent state legislators a statement on the Association’s position regarding school funding.

In the statement, Michael Vrancik, NJSBA director of governmental relations, noted that New Jersey’s local school boards face two major challenges in school funding: A school finance formula that has not fully operated for several years, resulting in a number of districts that are not able to spend at levels deemed adequate for a thorough and efficient education; and the overreliance on property taxes to fund education.

“Resolving these issues requires a careful, well-thought-out approach that guarantees the funding necessary to meet the education needs of every student,” noted the statement. “NJSBA believes that the purpose of a school funding system is to ensure that each and every student has the opportunity to reach his or her potential. To do that, a funding system must recognize a community’s resources to fund education, and the educational needs of students.”

NJSBA has always been sensitive to the property tax burden on New Jersey school districts and its impact on their ability to support education programs. However, the Association would oppose any plan that would force the elimination of existing programs, and thus harm the quality of education for any student.