New estimates detail just how drastically some N.J. school districts would see their budgets shrink under a plan proposed by Gov. Chris Christie to overhaul how the state disburses education aid.
According to the Newark-based Education Law Center, about a quarter of N.J. school districts — 143 of 577 — would lose money under the proposed Fairness Formula.
Some districts would see their operating budgets slashed in half — or worse.
“This proposal of [Christie’s] is really taking us back decades from decades of progress,” said ELC research director Danielle Farrie.
“It would bring us back to a time when there are just enormous disparities based on individual districts’ ability to raise their own local revenue,” said Farrie.
Currently the state distributes more school aid to needy, urban districts than it does to their generally more well-to-do, suburban counterparts. State school aid is collected through income, sales, and corporate taxes.
Christie is proposing what he calls a fairer solution: give each district $6,599 per student. That equates to the total amount of state aid currently distributed — about $9 billion — divided by the total number of enrolled students across the state. (It does not include state aid for special education, which would be higher.)
Under Christie’s proposal, more than three quarters of school districts across the state would see their school aid from the state increase, while less money would go to those 143 districts, which Farrie says are generally poorer and less able to make up the difference by raising taxes on their residents.
In other words, the state school aid cuts would disproportionately affect districts that would have the most trouble making up the lost money, according to the ELC.
Vineland, for example, received $136,686,610 in state aid last year. Under Christie’s Fairness Formula, Vineland would receive $66,290,255 — less than half of what it currently gets.
Because Vineland relies so heavily on state aid, the district would lose 41 percent of its total operating budget.
While many districts would lose a smaller fraction of their budgets, harder-hit areas include Pleasantville, Pemberton, Camden, Newark, Union, Trenton, Asbury Park, Keansburg, Passaic, and Elizabeth — all of which would see half or about half of their operating budgets evaporate.
But supporters of the Fairness Formula say the real story lies with the other 434 school districts that would see their state aid rise.
Many of those suburban districts have had to hike property taxes on their residents to fund schools because state aid did not cut it, according to state Sen. Mike Doherty, R-Warren, who is sponsoring the measure.
“Property taxes in the suburban areas have gotten so high because they get so little school aid that it’s really impacting families all across New Jersey,” said Doherty. “It’s impacting negatively real estate values.”
Christie says that suburban districts that receive more state school aid and do not increase education spending could pass on those savings to residents through property tax relief.
“These districts are spending exorbitantly, failing extraordinarily and driving residents from our state with resulting high taxes,” said Christie spokesman Brian Murray. “The current funding formula allows failing school districts to spend as much as $33,699 per pupil while performing school districts spend less than half of that per student and produce graduation rates 25% higher. It is obscene.”
Doherty said that the measure “doesn’t have a chance of passing” in the currently Democrat-led Legislature, but he is hoping to make it a statewide issue in the 2017 election.