Senate President Has Questions About Possible School Funding Changes
"The school funding formula we have now works because it's fair," says Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeney. "It's not broken. It's just never been fully funded."
Sweeney says it has come to his attention that a group of outside consultants and researchers is working with the State Department of Education on possible changes to the "School Funding Reform Act of 2008," (SFRA). He has sent a letter to acting Education commissioner Chris Cerf asking for details on the working group.
The Senate President says among the questions for which he wants answers are, "Who are they? What are they about? What are they bringing to the table? Are you paying these people? Are they volunteers? Are they going to be banned from doing anything with the Department of Education if they come up with a new funding formula? Are these people going to keep notes? Are there going to be minutes? Are the meetings going to be public?"
Sweeney also wants to know if any new funding formula would meet legal muster because he points out that the courts ordered Governor Christie to increase school spending in this year's budget.
"We need to know," says Sweeney. "This is important to the entire state, to every resident in this state."
To view Sweeney's entire letter, click here.
In part, Sweeney's letter to Cerf reads, "Given that the Legislature will be required to address any proposed changes to the SFRA, I request that you promptly provide information concerning the process your Office will use to develop these changes over the coming months, including: the participants and qualifications of those on the working group, along with goals, objectives and a timetable for the group to complete its work. In addition, please advise when your Office will publicly release a preliminary report of any proposed changes, and how you will offer stakeholders and the public the opportunity for input prior to making final recommendations."
Sweeney says he hasn't received a response from Cerf yet, but he does expect one in writing.
Meanwhile, outside the State House yesterday, Senator Steve Oroho, Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, and Assemblyman Gary Chiusano, all Republicans, stood with others who support GOP Senator Mike Doherty's "Fair School Funding" plan.
"The vast majority of the state's taxpayers and their children do not benefit from the current school funding formula," said Oroho. "New Jersey's school funding formula has been manipulated so that around 60 percent of all state education aid is directed to just a handful of urban school districts."
All three legislators are also sponsors of the Fair School Funding proposal which would provide equal school aid for each student, regardless of where the student resides.
"New Jersey needs to establish a fair, simple, transparent and straightforward educational funding formula," says McHose. "This means one that takes the revenue from income tax and distributes it fairly to all of New Jersey's children. That will be good for education and it will lower property taxes. The current school funding formula, created by Governor (Jon) Corzine in the beginning of 2008, short-changes the vast majority of students and property taxpayers throughout the state."
Chiusano says, "New Jersey has the highest property taxes in America because we have the most unequal education funding formula in the country."