Gov. Chris Christie has been traveling New Jersey to push his new education funding formula, but the welcome he received in Bordentown on Tuesday was probably not the kind of response he’d hoped.
Dozens of protesters spoke through megaphones and shouted “Shame on you! Shame on you!” ahead of the Republican governor’s first public forum on the issue in Burlington County.
“Ninety percent of our students live at poverty levels,” said demonstrator Naomi Johnson-Lafleur, president of the Trenton Education Association. “For him to say that he’s going to cut that funding is to say, ‘I don’t care about you.'”
Christie’s “fairness formula” would radically alter how the state metes out education funding to school districts statewide.
Currently the state disburses aid through a need-based formula, giving more money to poorer, urban districts than to their suburban counterparts.
Under the “fairness formula,” each school district would receive $6,599 per student regardless of need. (Special needs students would receive more state aid.)
By the Christie administration’s own calculations, 75 percent of school districts statewide would see their school aid increase while the other 25 percent would see funding drop.
School districts with increased state school funding could apply those savings to their residents’ property tax bills, the Chrisitie administration has said, a novel premise in a state with some of the highest property tax rates in the country.
“The biggest problem we’d have then is all the EMS calls that we’d have to be making to people who are passing out in their kitchens when they opened up their property tax bill in New Jersey and saw it less,” joked Christie.
But he got pushback from several members of the public who asked how such a plan would benefit students in the 25 percent of school districts that would see cuts — potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars less — in areas that would be hard pressed to raise taxes.
“There’s no money in Camden at all. Where are you gonna get it from?” said Sue Altman, a teacher living in the city. “How are we gonna say, ‘Well then, you know what, we’re gonna take money away from you.'”
Christie replied that the school aid cuts would force low-performing districts to take a look at their methods and figure out how to improve.
“If we keep sending them money at the rate we’re sending it now, there is no mechanism which will force them to re-evaluate the way they’re failing in educating these children,” said Christie. “They will continue on the same path. I am trying to force change here.”
Christie has also held forums in Wall, Monmouth County, and Fair Lawn, Bergen County.
His proposal has yet to get a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
If enacted, the “fairness formula” would upend decades of mandates from the N.J. Supreme Court and likely result in a legal challenge.