In a push to change the funding system in his state, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke to a town in the northern region, telling them that they are "getting shafted every year" by the system.
The announcement came during a public forum at the Fair Lawn Senior Center as part of his promotion of the "Fairness Formula," which he told the town could lower the average property tax bill there by $2,223 as it gave Fair Lawn a major increase in school aid.
"You deserve better than what you are getting," Christie said. "I want folks in Fair Lawn who want to stay in Fair Lawn to be able to afford to stay in Fair Lawn."
Under Christie's plan, the current state formula that requires a "thorough and efficient" education for 31 school districts, most of which are failing or underperforming, would be done away with. As it stands, the $9.1 billion in direct school aid is primarily given to districts who have a majority of students from low-income families, those learning to speak English, and special education students.
The formula also considers the ability of each town to raise revenue for its schools through property taxes. Wealthier districts are required to pay a higher percentage of school costs using their own tax dollars.
Christie argues that distributing state aid in this way has increased the cost of living for most residents throughout New Jersey. He added that despite this, schools that were receiving aid continued to fail, writes Hannan Adely for The Courier-Post.
In its place, aid would be redistributed by going from the poorest districts to hundreds of other schools. Extra funding for students who typically require additional services would no longer be offered in order to offer the same funding for every student in the state. Just about 600 school districts would receive $6,599 for every non-special needs student.
"There's no other way to do this but to go to full equalized funding for every kid in this state. Because I don't think that a child in Fair Lawn is any less valuable than a child in Newark," Christie said.
While the plan would offer property tax relief for 75% of school districts in the state, the remaining 25% would see a reduction in funding that could cause budget cuts and school closures. The majority of the schools that would be affected by the plan are in urban and low-income districts.
Christie argued that many of those districts are overspending and underperforming. As an example, he looked to Asbury Park, which spends about $33,000 per student and has a 66% graduation rate. Meanwhile, he said Fair Lawn spends around $20,000 per student and holds a 95% graduation rate, reports Adam Clark for NJ.com.
However, critics have referred to the plan as "unconstitutional" and "radical." Senator Bob Gordon, who opposes the plan, called it "unrealistic," adding that if it were to ever be implemented it would be "destructive to education" in the state. He added that the proposal is merely a "false promise" because it will never be enacted.