Christie proposes overhaul of N.J. school funding; critics say urban students will suffer

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announces his school funding plan at Hillsborough High School Tuesday. (Tim Larsen/Governor's office)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announces his school funding plan at Hillsborough High School Tuesday. (Tim Larsen/Governor's office)

Gov. Chris Christie is proposing major changes to the way New Jersey doles out education funding to  school districts.

Departing from a decades-old policy in which the state sent more aid to low-performing urban districts, Christie is recommending a funding formula that gives every district $6,599 per student. (The state would make exceptions for special-needs students.)

“A funding formula that puts a higher value on one child over another is morally wrong, and it has been economically destructive,” Christie said Tuesday. “We cannot let it continue.”

Christie criticized the state Supreme Court’s decision 30 years ago to create Abbott Districts, struggling urban school districts that received a larger share of aid, claiming the state has so overcorrected the inequity that regular districts are now suffering.

“It is bankrupting our state,” said Christie, who claimed the plan would also translate into property tax cuts for some municipalities. “It is driving families from their homes and New Jersey.”

Citing lower graduation rates in urban districts, Christie said that increased funding was not helping struggling schools.

But Stephen Danley, an assistant professor of public policy at Rutgers University-Camden, said that argument does not hold water.

“Whoever wrote this analysis would fail a basic stats course, because the first thing you learn in any stats course is that correlation does not equal causation,” he said.

Danley said, in fact, struggling urban districts often improve with increased funding, but they still face a slew of other problems that suburban school districts do not.

“It’s harder thing to go to school if you have uncertainty in your housing, if you have food uncertainty, if you have violence in your community,” said Danley.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Newark-based Education Law Center, said that urban districts struggling with the current rate of funding would have an even harder time educating students.

“If this plan were implemented, it would devastate our schools by removing an unprecedented level of educational resources — teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, support programs and services, and more — from districts all across the state,” he said.

In the hours after Christie’s announcement, many of his fellow Republicans praised the plan while some Democrats, including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, condemned it.

Christie said he will spend the summer touring the state to sell the plan.

Phil Gregory contributed to this report.

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