💲 NJ education boss gets grilled by the Budget Committee

💲 Many questions raised about the state’s school funding formula

💲 Committee members express confusion and frustration

During the latest Assembly Budget Committee hearing on Monday, the state education commissioner presented a rosy picture of support for schools, telling members of the panel the proposed fiscal year 2024 state spending plan totals more than $20 billion and it increases aid to school districts in many different ways.

However, when members of the committee began asking specific questions about proposed education spending, the answers they frequently received seemed incomplete.

New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan said the governor’s proposed budget includes increases in K-12 school aid and pre-school funding, but some members of the panel expressed concern about the state school funding formula, which adversely impacts 168 districts across New Jersey this year.

Is the school funding formula fair?

New Jersey Budget

Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, said districts she represents have received cuts in school aid and she asked the commissioner if the administration believes already sky-high high property taxes should be raised to make up the difference so teachers aren’t laid off and programs can continue.

“Assemblywoman, I can’t speak to that. That would be a question for Treasury," Allen-McMillan said.

Munoz noted the issue is “providing adequacy for school districts. You’re the education commissioner. Do you have an opinion about that?"

Allen-McMillan said “I do not have an opinion. I thought your question asked me about property taxes.”

Munoz then repeated the question and asked the commissioner again if it is the Murphy administration’s position that school districts already paying more than they should be in property taxes to support their schools should be increasing those property taxes.

“You’re asking me about a specific element of the funding formula. You’re asking me about property taxes, and so if you’re asking me to opine on property taxes in particular I cannot," the commissioner said. "To speak to the funding formula in its entirety I can have my colleague do that.”

Munoz then asked if a school district has to increase property taxes in order to be able to provide the services they need, how is the school funding that’s provided considered property tax relief, as the governor has suggested.

Allen-McMillan responded that the school funding formula, “with all of its components, is the clear way of providing proper funding to every school district based on the same set of factors over a 7-year period.”

Prostock-Studio GettyImages
Prostock-Studio GettyImages

Munoz then said “I think we’re talking in circles here,” and pointed out when the state income tax was first established in 1973, it was supposed to be used to fund schools, but now that has changed, and property taxes fund schools.

Allen-McMillon responded by saying when it comes to property taxes, “that is not within my prevue to opine on.”

Munoz then asked her if she was saying lawmakers should change the school funding formula and Allen-McMillon said “the Legislature has the power to enact legislation and if that is what the Legislature decides to do and it is signed by the governor then we will implement the new legislation.”

Munoz then wondered why the Department of Education budget includes $500,000 for mental health training in schools but zero dollars for screening of students and why only $30 million has been allocated to address pandemic learning loss out of a $20 billion budget.

Allen-McMillon said the amount of money listed in the budget is to support ongoing efforts to address learning loss, not the total amount being allocated.

She also addressed questions about teacher shortages in New Jersey, noting “some districts have to make the tough decision to let go of teachers, as opposed to finding themselves in the desperate position of having to find teachers, and this is what happens in a society where we find there are shifts, there are shifts in jobs, there are shifts in the economy.”

Munoz then said money from the state income tax should also be used to fund schools and added “I’m not very satisfied with the answers I am receiving today.”

Budget Committee hearings are expected to continue for the next several weeks.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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Up or down? Average property tax changes in NJ in 2022

Below are the average property tax bills for every municipality in New Jersey last year.

The towns are listed from the biggest cut in the average bill to the highest increase. On the county maps, the deeper red color means a higher increase above 2% whereas the darker green signifies a smaller increase or a reduction.

Each listing also shows how the average tax bill is split among the county, school and municipal governments.

How much your school district gets under Murphy's proposed 2024 budget

Gov. Phil Murphy's porposed 2024 budget includes $1 billion in new spending for school funding including pre-K funding, pension and benefits, and an additional $832 million in K-12 aid, which is listed below by county and district.

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