School funding deadline day arrives with no sign of new formula
Time’s up, pencils down. How did things go creating a new school funding formula by the deadline?
Thursday is the 100th day since Gov. Chris Christie, in his annual budget speech, gave lawmakers 100 days to work with him to come up with a new school funding formula. There isn’t one, at least not yet.
There have been talks, both Christie and lawmakers say. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said today isn’t a hard deadline and that he, as well as staffers, met with Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, on the issue.
“I’ve actually even outlined some of the stuff that I would like to do and of all the stuff that I’m willing to do,” Prieto said. “And I have not heard anything back – any ideas, thoughts, concerns from the administration. So that’s where we left it.”
“I think the hundred days, that’s like an arbitrary number that doesn’t really mean much,” he said.
Christie said in his Feb. 28 address that he’d act alone to make changes if a new formula wasn’t completed in 100 days. When asked by reporters, he has repeatedly declined to give specifics.
Betsy Ginsburg, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, thinks that so long as progress is being made, talks will continue. She doesn’t know what Christie could do on his own to make changes, anyway.
“That’s a big question. I’m not sure there are unilateral options,” Ginsburg said.
“I don’t know if it’s an idle threat because none of us can read his mind,” she said. “But it seems to me that the possibilities are somewhat limited.”
Prieto said he’s optimistic an agreement can be reached by the end of the month, coinciding with the annual deadline to adopt a budget for the new fiscal year.
He notes that schools have adopted budgets relying on aid figures they received in early March, so doesn’t know if Christie’s go-it-alone options would include cutting any districts’ aid for 2017-18.
“I don’t know, but then, you know what? You do things like that, who you’re going to hurt is children,” Prieto said. “And that’s unacceptable.”
Christie’s public schedule for Thursday doesn’t currently include any education-focused events. He is due to talk about transportation funding at an 11 a.m. event in Dayton.
New Jersey Education Association president Wendell Steinhauer said Christie’s equal-funding plan initially rolled out a year ago is unworkable and Sweeney’s would eventually cost $2 billion. He said Prieto’s proposal is more limited but can be implemented through the budget, rather than a separate bill, and immediately help the dozen or so “hot spots” – school districts most in need of help.
Steinhauer said he doesn’t understand why Democratic legislative leaders don’t just wait until Christie leaves office in seven months, especially given that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy is favored to win the November election.
“This is not the time. Quite honestly, I don’t know why the Senate and Assembly would be foolish enough to rush a funding formula through with this governor.” Steinhauer said. “He hasn’t kept his word on anything and he has a record of vetoing everything. So why put in the effort with this guy?”
Sweeney has said the Senate won't pass a budget if school-funding changes aren't enacted this month. If July began without a budget in place, the state could shut down nonessential services due to a lack of funding.