Christie Proposes Overhaul to New Jersey Education Funding

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

This week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced a plan that would dramatically overhaul New Jersey’s education sector. Specifically, Governor Christie proposed a plan that would give every school district the exact same amount of state aid per student.

The governor called his program the “Fairness Formula,” which would provide $6,599 per student for each district, which would significantly reduce aid to urban districts and lower property taxes in many suburban towns. The plan, which has been proposed as an amendment to the New Jersey state constitution, would give 75% of school districts an increase in state aid, allowing them to ease property taxes on local residents.

Yet it would also hurt New Jersey’s school districts with higher percentages of students from low-income families, primarily the urban districts that Governor Christie has criticized for high spending and low graduation rates.”It is time to change the failed school funding formula and replace it with one that will force the end of these two crises — the property tax scandal and the disgrace of failed urban education,” Governor Christie said.

Currently, as reported by Adam Clark for NJ.com, the state provides 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 a second language. Of that $9.1 billion, $5.1 billion goes to 31 districts, while the remaining 546 districts receive the other $4 billion. In effect, the governor wants to undo the state formula that, according to ABC News, goes back to a 1985 NJ state Supreme Court ruling that required that the 31 mostly urban, poorer school districts get a “thorough and efficient” education.

Governor Christie’s proposal would erase any funding disparity among districts and give every district the same per-pupil aid and eliminate extra funding for certain students, with the exception of money allocated for special education students. The governor says that the reallocation will alleviate New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes and end the disproportionate funding of urban schools with low graduation rates.

Democratic lawmakers, along with the state’s largest teachers union and the Education Law Center, immediately criticized the governor’s new proposal. “The Governor’s proposal is completely contrary to the long-held consensus in New Jersey that funding should be based on the unique needs of students,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. “If this plan were implemented it would devastate our schools by removing an unprecedented level of educational resources.”

Still, Governor Christie says that he would actually be increasing aid to the overwhelming majority of school districts, not decreasing aid. For example, as reported by wNYC, the Hillsborough school district gets $17,761 per student and features a 94 percent graduation rate, while the Newark school district has a 69 percent graduation rate and gets $22,013 per student. The battle over funding allocations is just the latest episode in Governor Christie’s feud with NJ’s education sector. His most vociferous opponents have been the state’s teacher’s unions after introducing budget cuts in his first term as governor.