SENATE PRESIDENT SWEENEY’S SCHOOL FUNDING PLAN: WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
- Dr. G. Kennedy Greene, Superintendent of Schools, Newton:
“Senator Sweeney’s school aid plan represents another strong step on the State of New Jersey’s path to meeting its responsibility to provide financial equity to all citizens. This initiative will allow school districts the freedom to address their most pressing issues, whether those be adding teachers and technology to bring their educational programs up to adequacy, addressing critical safety and security needs, or providing tax relief in communities that are shouldering more than their fair share of the property tax burden.
“First, providing the State’s full share of categorical and extraordinary special education aid will reduce a significant load for all school districts. Second, $277M in new and redistributed formula aid added to last year’s $131M will redouble the commitment to reverse decades of basic school funding discrimination. Third, a $50M competitive grant opportunity will extend access to early childhood education to more deserving children and families.
“All of these measures taken together will bring greater tax fairness as well. The State will be taking on more of its constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient education. For those communities that are not yet contributing their local fair share or who choose to provide enhanced programming for their students, a waiver from the 2% tax levy cap could be adopted to afford them the ability to offset redistributed state aid.”
- Dr. James J. Lavender, Superintendent of Schools, Kingsway Regional School Districts:
“For nearly a decade Kingsway Regional, and similarly underfunded Schools throughout the State, have been on the losing end of an arbitrary school funding scheme. A scheme that has created a public school system of haves and have nots. Over that time our students have done without programs and technology resources, our teachers have practiced their craft in overcrowded classrooms and, our residents have disproportionality funded systems designed to collapse under the weight of their rapidly growing infrastructures.
“One year ago a coalition of superintendents, elected officials and community leaders representing resource-starved school districts, from Gloucester to Sussex County, demanded that political interference be removed from decisions impacting state aid allocations and that the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA) be followed. We filed lawsuits, provided countless public testimonies, and have staged press conferences on the State House Steps. We had enough and simply wanted every child, regardless of wealth or status, to be treated fairly under the law. Senate President Sweeney heard that call, championing our fight in the legislature, pledging school funding reform, and taking on special interests who preferred to maintain status quo.”
- Dr. Rocco Tomazic, Superintendent of Schools in Freehold Borough:
“Freehold Borough is the 3rd most underfunded school district in New Jersey. For eight years the district has been essentially flat funded in state aid, while student enrollment has exploded. To keep the district afloat, local taxpayers have been excessively taxed; now paying well above $2 million over their fair share. The district remains significantly under adequate and is challenged to provide a Constitutionally-mandated thorough and efficient education for its children, even resorting to judicial action to seek relief. This is a real problem that demands an immediate, comprehensive solution.”
“I am particularly optimistic to learn of Senate President Sweeney’s road map to begin to realize the promise of full SFRA funding and to place it into operation. This first step addresses the biggest educational injustice in a very sensible way, namely reducing the gap between underfunded and over aided districts. Not insignificantly, the plan also addresses inadequacy in special education funding that affects all districts, as well as setting aside funds to stimulate more districts to establish high qualify pre-kindergarten programs – a winning approach for any district.”
“Reaching towards the goal of equitable state funding envisioned in SFRA, relieving overburdened taxpayers contributing above their fair share, covering excessive special education costs, and further expanding pre-kindergarten programs for all districts – these are powerful initiatives that my district and many others around the state will look to with pride and anticipation.”
- Chris Benedetto, Co-Chair of Fair Funding for Cherry Hill:
“We are appreciative Senator Sweeney has provided a plan for supporting school funding reform. As a district that has been under funded since 2008 out of more than $135M, we look forward to the proposed reforms. An investment in pre-school, special education, and school funding fairness is desperately needed in Cherry Hill and many other districts. This is a step in the right direction and will benefit generations of children, as well as taxpayers and companies investing in New Jersey.”
- Andrea Katz, Chesterfield Township Committeewoman and former member of the Chesterfield Board of Education:
“Due to the prospect of flat aid, the Chesterfield Township School District is again facing a dire budget crisis this year. Over the past ten years, our district has been forced to cut both programs and services, and the only thing left to cut now is our staff. Without help, our district will be required to cut at least 10% of our certified staff members. Our children, our town’s tax payers, and our teachers have been forced to do without basic necessities while seeing property taxes surge only to attempt to keep pace. It makes me sick that we have to struggle this while other districts have been enjoying funding significantly exceeding the amounts calculated by the SFRA.
“My children are not worth less than a child in an overfunded district. All children in New Jersey are worth 100%, and the proposal laid out by Senate President Sweeney is a reasonable and open-minded step toward the goal of fair funding. The proposed new funds are more than double the amount generated last year, and it continues the just redistribution of what was previously a broken and unfair distribution of adjustment aid. And this plan would allow each district to make modifications before finalizing next year’s budgets.
“Senate President Sweeney has also acknowledged the issues with the way districts fund out-of-district special education placement. The costs of these special education placements exact a large toll on school districts, especially small districts like Chesterfield. No district should be forced to eliminate a classroom teacher or an essential program to find the funds to provide a student with the services they need. Shifting the cost to the State, where it belongs, is a fair solution that will relieve this financial pressure on every school district.
- Jennifer Cavallaro-Fromm, Co-Chair of the statewide Fair Funding Action Committee and Kingsway Regional Board of Education member:
“Over the past decade, the Kingsway Regional School District which includes our high-school and middle school, along with four elementary school districts and represents five municipalities has been forced to operate in a continued state of fiscal crisis. Receiving only 48% of what we are entitled to under the SFRA, our teachers and students have experienced a slow erosion of programs and resources for years. More recently our school community has been forced to suffer additional staffing cuts and cuts to critical programming that affects our students’ academic and extracurricular opportunities.
“It takes a leader to evaluate a problem and to develop a fair and equitable solution. It takes a strong leader to actually implement that solution even if it means making difficult decisions because a strong leader knows that doing the right thing is more important than succumbing to external pressure. Senate President Sweeney is a strong leader. He made a commitment to our underfunded community and to the 65% of underfunded communities across the State of New Jersey to incrementally move towards fully funding the SFRA while fairly phasing out adjustment aid and removing the growth caps. Senator Sweeney’s plan to increase education aid by $758 million to be funded through a phase out of adjustment aid and a 3% surcharge on the Corporate Business Tax which is offset by the newly enacted federal decrease demonstrates strong leadership. His plan is viable, fair, and sustainable.
“Senator Sweeney could have introduced a plan that just threw money at all school districts. He could have done it without regard for individual taxpayers who lost their state and local tax deductions. This would have hurt taxpayers that contribute to our local economy, and it would have unfairly ignored that 35% of schools are operating with 100% to upwards of 300% of their state aid numbers. He chose to be a strong leader and fight for a fiscally responsible, fair, and sustainable solution; a solution that addresses funding inequities and is balanced with federal corporate tax trends. Thank you Senate President Sweeney for being a strong leader and for being our leader.”