Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget puts almost as much additional money into the school-funding formula as the last five budgets combined – yet still has a healthy share of critics, anyway, and seems bound to a topic this week as public hearings on the spending plan begin.

The budget puts $283 million in additional money into the funding formula, not to mention the increased spending on preschool, construction and teachers’ pensions. But it does so without changing patterns in how it’s distributed, disappointing some school officials and lawmakers.

Generally speaking, the Murphy administration calculated school aid figures by running the formula, then giving districts one-fourth of the difference between that number and their current aid.

That approach didn’t take into account changes in a school’s enrollment and a municipality’s development and wealth, which have largely been ignored for a decade – leading some districts to receive more aid than they’d otherwise receive if aid figures were ‘uncapped,’ while others are seriously shortchanged.

For instance, the Murphy administration’s math says Freehold Borough schools were $2.1 million short, so they get $535,000 more funding.

Schools Superintendent Rocco Tomazic says Freehold is the third-most underfunded district in New Jersey, with a shortfall of $12 million, in a system with a $23 million budget.

“That’s something that we definitely will want to hear, what the rationale is for this, because right now we can’t figure out what the rationale is,” Tomazic said.

Tomazic said school officials will have to once again speak out at budget hearings, which begin Wednesday in Trenton for the Assembly and Thursday in Newark for the Senate.

“We thought we had made the message last year and that the new administration would handle it, but apparently not. So we’re going to have to be very vocal again,” Tomazic said.

Murphy called the additional school funding “a clear path toward property tax relief” on a public radio call-in program Thursday. He noted the budget provides around $300 million more aid – but didn’t mention that’s $830 million short of full funding, according to the Department of Education.

“So I would say to folks who are frustrated by that I don’t blame them. But we can’t solve all this overnight,” Murphy said.

Murphy says his goals are full funding within four years and to work with lawmakers to revise the formula for the first time since 2008.

“We have to do both. We are committed to doing both. And I expect fully that we will do both,” Murphy said.

“The formula is 10 years old. Things have changed,” he said. “So we want to work with the Legislature to get that tweaked and updated and get that into a place that’s a 2018 reality, not a 2008 reality.”

When it released the planned 2018-19 school aid figures, the Department of Education also made public the full formula K-12 amounts for informational purposes only. These numbers do not reflect an uncapped distribution of aid.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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