N.J. lawmakers begin hearings on distribution of school funds

David Sciarra

David Sciarra

The New Jersey Assembly has launched a series of hearings to examine proposals for revising the school-funding formula of 2008.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, told the Assembly Education Committee Wednesday that the administration of Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly failed to provide money in the budget to fully fund the formula.

And Christie’s proposal for state school aid — based on allocating an equal per-pupil amount in every district — would turn the clock back 50 years, Sciarra said.

“It’s a state aid-redistribution plan for purposes of property tax relief, moving money away from the education of our most vulnerable kids, our highest-poverty and most-challenged districts, to other communities for purposes of lowering property taxes,” he said.

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Representing the New Jersey Education Association, Sean Spiller said he opposed Christie’s plan as well as Senate President Steve Sweeney’s proposal to eliminate more than $500 million of aid to districts with declining student enrollment.

“Both of these proposals do have one thing in common — that is that they are very divisive and do nothing to address the one billion shortfall in funding that should be the focus of our conversations,” Spiller said.

Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto, who said he no preconceived notion on how to change the funding formula, said he wants to use the legislative process to come to an agreement.

But Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said he is not expecting action on any agreement until after this election year.

“It would be hard for me to believe that the Democrats are going to significantly change the way school funding is distributed in the state,” he said. “I think it’s too much of a hot political potato in their caucus.”

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