N.J. Senate panel huddles over Christie’s $7.8 billion school aid plan

A New Jersey Senate committee spent several hours Thursday examining Gov. Chris Christie’s proposals for education aid.

The governor’s budget calls for $7.8 billion in direct aid to New Jersey public schools. While that’s $135 million more than last year, Senate Budget Committee chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said it’s still less than it was before Christie took office.

“The more school aid we send, the less has to be borne by the local property taxpayer. So I look at direct school aid as property tax relief, and as we sit here today we’re 90 percent of where we were pre-Christie,” Sarlo said.

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said it’s how the money is spent that matters.

“We send 56 percent of all the state funding to 31 districts serving 21 percent of the kids. The question is not, ‘Should we be doing the right thing?’ The question is, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ And I don’t believe we are,” Cerf said.

The Education Department wants a funding formula that bases aid to districts on student attendance rather than enrollment. A new teacher evaluation system is also under development.

Cerf said the changes are aimed at graduating more students who have the skills to go on to college or a career.

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